A High Court judge has ruled that doctors can legally remove life support treatment from 12 year old UK boy, Archie Battersbee, arguing that the child is ‘technically dead”.
The child, who is currently breathing by mechanical ventilation, has been on life support for the past 8 weeks after being injured when a TikTok challenge reportedly went wrong.
The decision comes after doctors attempted to perform a brain-stem test last month, but this could not be completed as Archie did not react to precursor nerve tests.
On Monday, Mrs Justice Arbuthnot ruled that doctors at the Royal London Hospital in East London where Archie is being treated, could legally withdraw Archie’s ventilator treatment. She concluded that the 12-year-old was ‘technically dead’.
Mrs Justice Arbuthnot ruled that Archie died “at noon on May 31 2022” after MRI scans were done, and said that Barts Health NHS Trust can legally withdraw his treatment.
Archie’s family have challenged the narrative that he is already dead, and his mother has vowed to continue fighting for her son and other children who she says have been “sentenced to death” after the ruling was made on Monday.
His heartbroken family have already stated that they intend to appeal the ruling. Archie’s mother, Hollie Dance, said on Monday that she was “devastated and extremely disappointed” by the landmark ruling. Ms Dance added that her “gut instinct” was that her son was still clinging onto life.
Speaking following the ruling, Ms Dance told the media gathered outside the High Court:
“I will keep going. I’m not giving up on my son. Archie is very much for justice, he always has been, and I’m his voice at the minute, and I will fight for justice and my son deserves that – he’s 12 years old.
“This hospital has got the biggest battle ever, because I refuse to give up the fight for my son’s life.”
While doctors have claimed he is ‘brain stem dead’, his family have insisted that Archie “gripping” his mum’s fingers — in a video reportedly shown to Sky News — shows he is still fighting to stay alive. His family have pointed out that the youngster’s heart is still beating, and they want his treatment to continue, saying that he hasn’t been given enough time to recover since being injured on 7 April.
The family argued the ruling risks “extending the definition of death”, which currently lacks consensus under British law.
“I am devastated and extremely disappointed by the judge’s ruling after weeks of fighting a legal battle when I wanted to be at my little boy’s bedside,” Ms Dance said in the wake of the judgment.
“Basing this judgment on an MRI test and that he is ‘likely’ to be dead is not good enough. This is believed to be the first time that someone has been declared ‘likely’ to be dead based on an MRI test.
“The medical expert opinion presented in Court was clear in that the whole concept of ‘brain death’ is now discredited, and in any event, Archie cannot be reliably diagnosed as brain-dead.
“I do not believe Archie has been given enough time. From the beginning, I have always thought ‘Why the rush?’ His heart is still beating, he has gripped my hand and, as his mother, I know he is still in there”.
The Christian Legal Centre, who are representing Archie’s family, condemned Monday’s ruling, and voiced concern over possible repercussions of the decision.
Andrea Williams, chief executive, said: “This ruling sets a troubling and dark precedent. This case has raised significant moral, legal and medical questions as to when a person is dead.
“We will continue to stand with the family and continue to pray for a miracle”, she added.
The judge, on the other hand, said that had she not concluded that Archie was “technically dead”, she would have ruled that it was not in the schoolboy’s best interests to remain on life support because this risks sudden death without the chance for loved ones to say goodbye.
Commenting on the decision, the hospital trust sympathised with Archie’s family during what it said was a “sad and difficult time”, adding that doctors at the hospital will continue to offer the best possible care for Archie while the family makes a decision over any appeal.
Archie, a keen gymnast, was found unconscious with a ligature over his head at his home home in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, on 7 April. His family fear he was taking part in the “blackout challenge” — an extremely dangerous TikTok craze which challenges young people to choke themselves until they pass out from a lack of oxygen.
A ten year old girl in the US died while trying to complete the challenge late last year, with her mother now suing TikTok for allowing the explicit content on its platform. The dangerous stunt can be traced back to 2008: 82 youths in the US have died as a direct result of the ‘game’, according to the CDC. In 2021, at least three children reportedly died after taking part in the challenge.
Archie’s family and dozens of supporters — now known as “Archie’s army” — gathered outside Royal London hospital on Monday night in a vigil to pray for his recovery. In a statement ahead of the vigil, his mother thanked people for their support, and urged faith leaders and politicians to join in praying for her son.
“Your support has been amazing and I am truly blessed to have Archie as much son. He has made me a proud mother”, Ms Dance wrote.
“May I please call upon all of you to attend a vigil for him.
“I am calling upon all faith leaders, supporters from all communities and politicians to attend and pray for my son that God hears his voice and grants him healing. Thank you”.
People said prayers and purple heart-shaped balloons were released as supporters could be heard shouting “come on, Arch, come on Arch”.
Since Archie went into hospital, over 80,000 people have signed the ‘Let Archie Live’ petition.