C: Images provided by family (Hollie Dance)

Archie Battersbee’s mother should be granted her final wish

The story of the life and death of 12-year-old Archie Battersbee has touched the world over the last four months. The high school student, described as a “born fighter” by his doting mother, was, just a few short months ago, an active, vivacious young boy who was showing growing promise as a gymnast. He took fond care of his pet rabbit, ‘Simion’, and loved nothing more than spending time at his local mixed martial arts gym in Southend-on-Sea – the coastal town in Essex he called home.

The name Archie Battersbee was unknown to us until he was tragically catapulted into the spotlight of worldwide media attention and a long saga of legal battles following a dreadful, freak accident at his home in early April. According to his family, lively and much adored Archie was attempting to perform a dangerous TikTok challenge. He was found with a ligature around his neck after it went horribly wrong. 

He has remained in a coma and on life support since then – while his devastated mother and family have kept vigil around his bedside while fighting a string of legal battles begging the courts and medics for more time to see if he can make any form of recovery. 

Archie’s mother, Hollie Dance has highlighted how some European countries allow children six months on life support treatment. She has also insisted throughout that doctors are not fortune tellers, and it is possible to get a prognosis wrong. Like the parents of Alfie Evans and Charlie Guard, she has asked, and been denied permission, to seek treatment offered for Archie abroad. She has also made the point that there is no evidence that Archie’s organs are failing, and even told the media that she felt her son gently squeeze her hand. While she has admitted that any glimmers of hope are tiny, it is clear to the world that in the eyes of Archie’s adoring mother, where life endures – albeit assisted by a machine – hope endures.

After losing a whirlwind of high-profile court battles, Hollie Dance this week lost her latest and final appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. Admitting she has done everything she could possibly do to keep her son alive and that the fight had reached its end, an exhausted Ms Dance said that the family’s final wish was to have Archie moved to a hospice to receive end of life care:

Ms Dance – assisted by the Christian Legal Centre – on Thursday sought legal permission to move Archie from the Royal London Hospital to a hospice and for him to be allowed to receive palliative oxygen when attempting to breathe. 

The hope of Archie’s family being granted their final wish was extinguished earlier today when Ms Dance, along with Archie’s father, lost their High Court bid to have him moved to the hospice. The court insisted, as it has all along, that Archie must die with dignity, and that having his life support switched off in a hospital room is in his best interests – even despite the wishes of the parents who have been up against the system all along. 

But what does ‘dying with dignity’ mean to the hospital and to the courts? And why can’t the family be granted their one, final wish in determining where their son must die — when the hospital and the courts decided on everything else?

Granted, the High Court, making its ruling on Friday morning, highlighted Archie’s fragile condition and the risks involved with moving him to a hospice – the main risk, as set out by a medical professional, being that Archie would not make it to the hospice and would die in transit. Yet, I can’t help feeling that Archie’s mother’s instinct and the wishes of his family should count for something. After such a harrowing, drawn-out ordeal, why shouldn’t they be allowed to take that risk if it means he can die in a setting which offers them privacy and a sense of closure?

If they are willing to take the risk of him dying in transit, that should be their decision to make, since the hospital has been allowed to overrule her on so much else.

As Archie’s mother told the press this week:

“The courts are really focusing in on the word dignity, but what is dignified about dying in a busy hospital room full of noise with the door open [with] people coming in and out continuously when Archie could be in a very peaceful garden with squirrels and wildlife running around to have his life support withdrawn there?”

It has become clear that ‘death with dignity’ in Archie’s case equates to dying quickly, at a specified time set out by the hospital. His parents do not agree that this is dignified – yet it appears the wishes of the family and the instincts of a mother count for nothing. Now, even their last request after a failed legal ordeal is being denied as undignified. `

There is a reason why privately-funded hospices keep going and prove an incredible support and resource to so many families across the UK and Ireland every day. End of life palliative care given by hospices provides vital comfort and assistance at a time of great distress and heartbreak for families, helping with emotional and mental health, as well as social and spiritual needs of patients and their families.

Ms Dance admitted this week that while she has not had time to think about herself, that she is ‘broken’ and will at some point need serious therapy. She says she ‘constantly relives’ Archie’s accident in her head. We simply cannot imagine the nightmare she has lived and breathed over the past four months.

When you balance out all the risks and factors, the decision to deny Archie hospice care does seem unreasonable – and frankly, inhumane, considering what his family have endured. I can’t help but agree wholeheartedly with Ms Dance that If the hospital and the courts truly want to focus on ‘dignity’, then the option of palliative end-of-life hospice care should be provided for her son and her family.

No child is an island, and the long-term recovery and healing of the family should also be considered. If the medical experts are saying things can’t get any worse for Archie, that he will die soon, where is the harm in giving his family a reprieve from the acrimony and negativity of the hospital setting? Why can’t the family decide where the final chapter plays out, when the hospital and the courts have decided everything else?

The humane thing to do now would be to give Archie’s family a chance to say goodbye to him in a compassionate, loving environment, away from a space which only represents conflict and turmoil to them – and has nothing to do with the staff who have been caring for Archie. 

For Hollie Dance, Archie’s father Paul, and his siblings, the path to healing could have been made easier through palliative hospice care. This is proven through the countless testimonies of families who have had to say goodbye to their children.

I think of the testimonies of families from Every Life Counts, the pro-life Irish support network for families whose child is diagnosed with a life-limiting condition. I recently read with damp eyes the testimony of a family whose precious baby girl lived for just one hour and thirteen minutes after she was born. Those moments will live in the mind, heart and soul of her parents for a lifetime. That little girl, diagnosed with a chromosomal condition, fought until the end to meet her parents, and blessed them beyond description in the depths of such pain and heartbreak – and that was made possible through palliative care.

Archie’s family, too, deserve to be given such agency even at such a late stage. I still believe that a mother’s instincts – despite what the medics, courts and the hospital may say – must surely count as something and must also be taken into account. 

While Archie’s mother has acknowledged that her course of action is not for everyone, stating, “I totally understand and respect that some parents out there might choose to do things differently”, it is hard to imagine a family who would not fight as hard for their own child. 

Hollie Dance is an extraordinary woman who has shown remarkable strength throughout an utterly horrendous, unthinkable ordeal. As the High Court judge, paying tribute to the family, said today: “Their unconditional love and dedication to Archie is a golden thread that runs through this case”.

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