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expert reaction to the court ruling on Alfie Evans

A court has ruled that Alfie Evans, a 21 month-old baby, who has been been in a coma for a year can have ventilation treatment withdrawn.


Prof Dominic Wilkinson, Consultant Neonatologist and Professor of Medical Ethics at the University of Oxford, said:

“This afternoon, Justice Hayden, in the High Court in London concluded that continued medical treatment for 21-month old Alfie Evans would not be in his best interests.

“The exact cause of Alfie’s condition is not known – there is no diagnosis, which can make it hard to know what the future holds. However, in Alfie’s case, the future, sadly, appears clear. Multiple medical specialists gave evidence in the case. Brain scans have shown severe deterioration over time. The judge described scans showing that large areas of the brain have been “wiped out”. Alfie is totally dependent on life support. He has profound neurological damage. There appears to be no prospect of recovery, and no specialists in this country, or overseas have identified any tests or treatment that have a real chance of making him better.

“It is devastating news for any parent to hear that their child is gravely ill.  It is especially difficult in situations when doctors cannot be sure of the exact cause of the child’s illness. However, sadly, despite all of our advances in genetics, it is still sometimes impossible to make an exact diagnosis in a seriously ill child.

“It is very understandable for parents to want to hold on to hope, to exhaust every possibility that might make their child better. However, sometimes the sad fact is that medicine cannot cure, or improve a child’s condition. Sometimes the only hope that remains is that a child’s suffering is not prolonged.

“The judge’s decision today will be terribly disappointing for Alfie’s family, and for all those who have supported them. However, these decisions are not reached lightly. Doctors do not always agree with parents about what would be best for the child. Yet, doctors only resort to the courts for help in the most extreme of situations, when all other avenues of treatment and of reaching agreement have been lost. Judges in this country have sometimes decided that life support can be stopped for a child, against the wishes of their parents. However, they reach that decision only when there is overwhelming evidence that treatment cannot help a child, and would, in fact do more harm than good.”


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