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Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust v Wyatt [2005] EWHC 117 (Fam)

The court order making it lawful for doctors not to resuscitate a seriously ill baby if she stops breathing must remain in force while further enquiries are made.

Family Division: Hedley J

(28 January 2005)

Summary

The court order making it lawful for doctors not to resuscitate a seriously ill baby if she stops breathing must remain in force while further enquiries are made.

Background

Charlotte Wyatt was born three months prematurely in October 2003, and has chronic respiratory and kidney problems coupled with the most profound brain damage that has left her blind, deaf and incapable of voluntary movement or response. She requires very high levels of supplemental oxygen in order to be able to breathe. In his judgment given on 7 October 2004, Hedley J included a declaration that, if Charlotte were to stop breathing, it would be lawful for doctors to 'reach a decision that she should not be intubated and/or ventilated'.

In the present case, it was suggested that Charlotte's condition had now improved: the medical evidence established visible changes, albeit without indicating significant change in the underlying causes; also, it was observed that the evidence of change did not address her capacity to survive aggressive or invasive treatment of the sort that might help to preserve life but that might equally destroy it. Nevertheless, where visible changes had occurred, there should be further investigations to see whether there had, in fact, been any changes in the underlying condition; and further experts would be instructed to investigate those matters, with another hearing before Hedley J to be arranged before Easter.

It was argued on behalf of the parents that, pending those further enquiries, the original order should be stayed.

Judgment

Held, refusing to stay the original order, (1) the declarations one way or the other did not derogate from the best interest duty of the medical practitioners which they were required independently to exercise as and when any crisis might arise; and (2) the court should not vary orders of its own without clear grounds for doing so; and, at the present time, everybody acknowledged that no such clear grounds existed.

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