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Justice flatlines in Great Britain


WORLD Radio - Justice flatlines in Great Britain

British courts continue to allow doctors to take children with chronic conditions off of life support

Archie Battersbee (center) and his mother Hollie Dance (right) Courtesy of Hollie Dance

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: the power to decide life or death in Great Britain.

Courts often hold that power over patients being treated in government-funded British hospitals. Such was the case with Indi Gregory, an 8-month-old girl in England with a rare disease. She died in hospice last month after doctors took away life support. Last week, more than a hundred people attended her funeral.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Indi’s family took the hospital to court in September to try to help her. And even after Italy offered fully-funded treatment there, a U.K. judge sided with the hospital and denied an appeal to let Indi die at home.

Indi’s father, Dean Gregory, spoke to commentator Michael Knowles after courts overruled Italy’s offer to treat his daughter.

DEAN GREGORY: I'm embarrassed to be British at the minute, we've got another country offering to pay for the treatment. They’re blocking her from coming home. It's just so cruel and inhumane. I just don't understand.

REICHARD: This is just one of many families that have fought the medical establishment in vain, but even after the funeral, they are not done fighting back.

Lillian Hamman has the story.

AUDIO: Come on, Arch!

LILLIAN HAMMAN, REPORTER: 11-year old Archie Battersbee shuffles around the floor mat at Southend, England’s MMA fighting gym. Eyes fixed on his opponent through his golden hair, Archie throws a punch with the left glove, then the right, before swinging a leg into the back of his opponent’s knees. Archie’s mother Hollie Dance cheers in the crowd and records the fight on video.

DANCE: The coach that was training Archie said the first time I ever took him, is Archie your son? I said, Yeah. And he just said he's gonna be a world class champion.

Dance remembers laughing off the trainer’s comment, thinking it was something he told everyone. It wasn’t.

DANCE: He just looks at me and said I'm serious. He's going to be a world class champion.

But just a few months after that boxing match, the boy with the potential of a future champion found himself fighting a much bigger fight: the fight for his life. In April of 2022, Dance discovered Archie unconscious at home.

DANCE: Archie was standing on the stairs with his knees slightly bent. And I just thought he was playing a prank. But obviously I've gone straight into panic mode, because I've seen the ligature under the chin.

The ligature was a hoop around Archie’s neck that was part of a social media challenge. But the challenge failed, and left Archie in a coma and on a ventilator at the hospital. His fingers still squeezed his mother’s hand whenever she held his. That’s why Dance was shocked when doctors wanted to remove Archie’s life support after a few weeks. She wanted to continue treatments for her son. Dance battled Britain’s government-funded NHS, National Health System in court to keep her son…alive.

DANCE: It just seems that nothing has been done to save Archie's life. But, everything has been done to end it, including taking us to court.

Despite intervention from other countries like Italy and Japan granting Archie citizenship for fully-funded treatment in their country, British courts still ruled to remove Archie’s life support. The 12-year old died four months later in August. Dance still doesn’t understand why she had no say in Archie’s treatment.

DANCE: The fact that they get to play God with who lives who dies, I think it's very concerning.

Archie’s story is just one piece in a much larger puzzle of stories illustrating Great Britain’s concerning decisions threatening the lives of patients in medical care. Patients and families desiring alternative treatments instead of discontinuing life support, or other care, are finding themselves fighting against the NHS in court, and losing.

GARD: Baby Charlie Gard has died in a hospice just shy of celebrating his first birthday.

EVANS: Just a few weeks shy of his second birthday, Alfie Evans took his final breath in the same British hospital where he spent most of his short life.

BATTERSBEE: Archie Battersbee, the 12-year old brain-damaged boy from the United Kingdom, died after life support was switched off.

GREGORY: Many across the nation and the world mourn the loss of 8-month old Indi Gregory. Indi passed away less than two days after she was taken off of life support.

The battle to keep these children alive under government-funded healthcare begins long before courts ruled to remove their life support. Since the pandemic, increased wait times for NHS appointments and ambulances doubled the number of people seeking private insurance. And poor treatment in hospitals also comes with a price. From 2018 to 2019, the NHS racked up a $3 billion bill for clinical negligence claims, nearly 2 percent of the organization’s budget.

David Jones, the director of England’s Anscombe Bioethics Centre, believes that giving parents the right to choose alternative treatments for their children comes down to the law.

JONES: The doctor is just part of a large hospital. And the hospital itself might be part of a larger sort of structure. And if it goes to court, really, the trust holds all the cards, they have much better resources. And they control how much medical information the parents get. What it should be is, are the parents being reasonable? Are they harming the child? If they're not obviously harming the child, then then it should remain in their hands. And that's, that's not where we are with the law in England at the moment.

Hollie Dance and other families of NHS victims are fighting to change the laws. Charlie Gard’s parents are working with lawmakers to develop Charlie’s Law. If passed, the law would help protect parental rights and keep disagreements over children’s medical care out of court. Soon after Archie’s death, Dance worked with her local government officials to draft Archie’s Army Law. The law would help parents discover more available care options before a court steps in.

DANCE: I believe God picked me to be Archie's mom for a reason. And I believe that Archie possibly completed his mission with raising all this awareness and what's going on here with regards to our system.

Dance believes Archie’s death may have ended his fight. But it was just the beginning of her fight for others.

DANCE: It's now my it's like, the baton has been passed over, isn't it? And there you go, mom. Now the rest is down to you. This is your fight now.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Lillian Hamman.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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