The battle over Archie Battersbee’s life support has been incredibly painful to watch. I can’t imagine there is a person in Britain or elsewhere who doesn’t feel for his mum, Hollie Dance, and dad, Paul Battersbee, ahead of the last minute hearing that today decided that their son’s life support will be stopped on Tuesday. This is a fight, yes – between medical experts and a grieving family who are clinging desperately to intangible hope. But there are no winners here.
Archie, 12, was due to have his medical treatment at the Royal London Hospital in east London withdrawn at 2pm Monday, after a High Court judge ruled this to be in his best interests. Archie was left brain-damaged after an incident at home in April, which his mother believes may have been linked to an online challenge. He has not regained conciousness since it happened.
The Court of Appeal at first granted a virtual hearing for 11am Monday after the government asked it to “urgently consider” a request from the United Nations to continue his treatment, but it then rejected the UN’s request, saying doctors would be allowed to stop treatment from Tuesday midday. Reports have etched out how “very anxious” his mother had been feeling all weekend as the family awaited the decision.
Like any parent, I can barely read the headlines without wondering how I would react if it were my child – either of my children. I suspect I would instinctively want to do what Archie’s mother and father are doing: fight with every breath in my body to explore every single option and vain opportunity, no matter how small. I know (without knowing) that I would find it virtually impossible to let go of hope. That I would pray, having never prayed in my life, for a miracle. That I would likely cling to the possibility – no matter how tenuous, how unlikely, how unadvised – that a last-minute court hearing could keep him alive.
At the same time, the family’s grief seems – from afar – to have only been compounded by the lengthy and drawn out court processes that are sending them on “an emotional rollercoaster” and their stress levels “through the roof”.
In an ideal world, grief is, and should be, a private matter: a chance for someone to say goodbye to someone they love on their own terms. Yet, as Archie’s mother told Sky News on Monday: “We are already broken”.
“The not knowing what was going to happen next is excruciating,” she said. She also spoke of the way the news was broken to them about the deadline for the withdrawal of Archie’s life support – Barts Health NHS Trust, which runs the hospital, wrote to the family over the weekend to inform them they intended to end treatment on Monday afternoon.
“There was no meeting, sat down and broken to gently,” she said. “It’s just caused so much stress. This could have been totally prevented and handled totally different to how it’s been handled. We shouldn’t have been dragged through the courts.
She said it felt like she had been given a letter with the “choreographed execution” of Archie and “just left to deal with our own feelings”.
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It’s sometimes easy to read of news stories as they happen in real time in a remote, detached manner. As journalists, we are sadly used to covering acres of horror: in Ukraine, elsewhere in the world and at home.
Archie’s case is particularly painful to cover because it’s so protracted – because we can all sympathise with the terrible anxiety his family must be feeling, which appears to have only been exacerbated by the to-ing and fro-ing of the judicial system. Because we are all so aware of the underlying, poignant sadness which overshadows it all.
Whatever happens today, and whichever way the ruling goes, Archie’s family deserve peace. Let’s afford them that.