Archie Battersbee’s life-sustaining treatment is to be withdrawn in hospital on Saturday, his family have been told, as their legal battle to have their young son moved to a hospice came to an end.
The 12-year-old has been in a coma since April following what his mother believes was his participation in an internet challenge, and is being kept alive by a combination of medical interventions at a London hospital.
Following a gruelling and unsuccessful legal battle to stop their son’s life support from being withdrawn, Archie’s family then sought to have their son moved from the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel to spend his final days in a hospice.
But they were left “devastated” as it became clear on Friday that “all legal routes have been exhausted”, and “are spending precious time with Archie”, said Christian Concern, a campaign group supporting the family.
In a last-ditch bid on Friday evening, the family sought help from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), after the British Court of Appeal confirmed shortly after 6.30pm that it had refused them permission to appeal a High Court judgement preventing Archie from being moved.
But just hours later, the European court said its judges would not intervene by applying the “interim measures” permitted in “exceptional” cases where it “considers that the applicant faces a real risk of serious, irreversible harm if the measure is not applied”.
The family’s “submissions did not appear to contain an explicit request for the court to take a specific action under Rule 39”, a spokesperson said in reference to the legal process allowing for such measures.
In their bid to the court, Archie’s parents had argued there had been a violation of articles six and eight of the European Convention on Human Rights – which lay out the right to a fair trial, and to respect for private and family life.
But the court’s president decided that these complaints fell outside the scope of its powers under Rule 39, the ECHR spokesperson said.
Prior to the court’s decision, Barts Health NHS Trust had said its position remained the same in that no changes would be made to Archie’s care “until the outstanding legal issues are resolved”.
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Archie has been in a coma since he was found unconscious by his mother, Hollie Dance, at their home in Southend, Essex, in April and is being kept alive by a combination of medical interventions, including ventilation and drug treatments.
Ms Dance believes he was taking part in an online challenge that left him catastrophically ill.
Doctors treating the schoolboy for the past four months declared Archie to be “brain-stem dead”, but his family kept his life support going in the hope he might recover.
The couple’s battle to prolong Archie’s life support ended on Wednesday, when the European Court of Human Rights refused to intervene to halt the withdrawal of his treatment.
The family’s focus then shifted to trying to get their son moved to a hospice, but Mrs Justice Theis at the High Court concluded on Friday that it was not in Archie’s best interests to be moved. Her decision followed a High Court order last month requiring that he remain in hospital while his treatment is withdrawn.
Doctors said Archie was in such a grave condition that moving him to a hospice carried a “significant risk” he could die during the journey, the High Court was told.
In her ruling on Friday, Ms Justice Theis said that, due to the risks involved in a transfer and “the increasing fragility of his medical condition”, Archie should remain in hospital when his treatment is withdrawn.
“The circumstances outlined by Dr F of the physical arrangements at the hospital and the arrangements that can be made will ensure that Archie’s best interest will remain the focus of the final arrangements to enable him peacefully and privately to die in the embrace of the family he loved,” Ms Theis said.
The judges considering the appeal application concluded that Judge Theis’s decisions were right, adding that while Archie’s family’s appeal had “no prospect of success”, there was “no other compelling reason” for the court to hear an appeal.
The appeal judges also said one of the arguments presented by Archie’s parents was flawed legally, adding: “It is also not easy to understand as it seeks to argue that Archie’s best interests have ceased to be relevant.”
Ms Dance had said she wanted her son to “spend his last moments” together with his family privately.
She told Times Radio they would not have privacy at the hospital, adding: “We can’t even have the chance to be in a room together as a family without nurses.”
She said: “There’s absolutely no privacy, which is why, again, the courts keep going on about this dignified death – why aren’t we allowed to take our child to a hospice and spend his last moments, his last days together privately?”
A family spokesperson said a hospice had agreed to take him, adding: “Hospices are well and truly designed for palliative and respite care. Archie is now obviously on palliative care so there is no reason whatsoever for him not to take his last moments at a hospice.”
But Barts Health NHS Trust said Archie’s condition was too unstable for a transfer and that moving him by ambulance to a different setting “would most likely hasten the premature deterioration the family wish to avoid, even with full intensive care equipment and staff on the journey”.
Additional reporting by PA