UK Court of Appeal refuses stay in case involving removal of life support, ignoring UN request

The UK Court of Appeal Monday denied to extend a stay in the Archie Battersbee case. Battersbee, a 12-year-old boy from the UK, was found unconscious in his home on April 7. His doctors and the National Health Service (NHS) claim he is brain-dead and it is in his best interest to remove all life support. Battersbee’s family disagree and want to continue life support.

On June 13, the High Court of England and Wales ruled for the NHS. On June 20, the Battersbee family appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal.

The family won the appeal and the case was sent back to the High Court to be reviewed. On July 15, the High Court ruled once again that Battersbee’s life support should be removed, and the Court of Appeal upheld the decision on July 25. On July 28, the Supreme Court refused permission to appeal to it.

The Battersbee family then made an emergency request to the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to review Archie’s case, claiming the UK was violating articles 10 and 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and Article 6 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Battersbee family claim that the UK’s current policy of declaring “brain-stem” death violates these international treaties by infringing upon disabled citizens’ fundamental rights to life and to equal recognition before the law, and a child’s inherent right to life.

The committee responded to the Battersbee family on July 29, stating:

Under article 4 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and pursuant to rule 64 of the Committee’s Rules of Procedure, the Committee, acting through its Special Rapporteur on Communications, has requested the State party to refrain from withdrawing life-preserving medical treatment, including mechanical ventilation and artificial nutrition and hydration, from the alleged victim while the case is under consideration by the Committee; this request does not imply that any decision has been reached on the substance of the matter under consideration.

The Court of Appeal held an emergency hearing on Monday, as the hospital had planned to ignore the UN request and remove life support at 2 pm on that day. During the emergency hearing the court determined that there was “really nothing of substance or merit” for a stay, stating that the Optional Protocol cited by the Battersbee family and the UN was not domestic law. The lead judge went on to say that “[t]he choice, awfully, is about how he dies. There is no other option. It is how he dies in the coming weeks.”

The three-judge panel gave the Battersbee family until 12 pm on Tuesday to appeal to the Supreme Court.