Sunday, 7 August 2022

Archie Battersbee

 I have not been able to follow the events of the Archie Battersbee case as they unfolded. I have also been very aware that the case might have involved specific circumstances, not known to the general public, that would affect a judgement of the outcome of the legal case.

A reliable source of comment is the Anscombe Bioethics Centre, who have three posts on their website about the case (linked here in reverse time order): Press Release on the Passing Away of Archie Battersbee A Comment on the Latest High Court Judgement on Archie BattersbeePress Statement on Archie Battersbee – “Very Likely Dead” is not Dead Enough. I think it is worth reading carefully all three of their posts.

There are some aspects of the case that as highlighted by the Anscombe Bioethics Centre that have a wider significance. One is the role of parents as the responsible agents of the best interests of their children.

The Centre has commented frequently that English law habitually fails to recognise the responsibilities and rights of the parents in cases relating to the medical treatment and care of children. This is shown in the present case by the appointment of a guardian to represent the interests of Archie, as though the parents are less well-qualified to represent his interests. Decision-making should not be taken from the parents unless and until they have been shown to be unreasonable and a threat to their child. They remain the people who know their child best.

 Another aspect reflects how a widespread societal perception can be too readily applied by judicial decision, whether or not it is reflected in the specific instance.

If Archie has no hope of recovery, then it seems prima facie reasonable for the hospital to seek to withdraw intensive care (if ordinary treatment and basic care are still provided). The practical conclusion of this judgement may well be defensible. However, the speculation that such withdrawal is what Archie “might have wanted”, and the claim that remaining on intensive care “compromises Archie’s dignity”, involve projections of views or feelings onto him in a way that is both unwarranted and ethically deeply problematic.

It is possible to see here how a widespread societal acceptance of a view about the circumstances of dying can affect, by way of legal decision, the care of those who do not share that view. 

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