A family judge at the High Court yesterday gave the go-ahead for a seven-month-old girl, who has only one year to live, to receive a bone marrow transplant that has a 50 per cent chance of giving her a normal life, but a 10 per cent chance of killing her.
He authorised the treatment even though it is opposed by the girl’s deeply religious parents, who believe God will provide a miracle cure.
The child’s doctors had asked Mr Justice James Holman for consent to carry out a bone marrow transplant on the girl, who is identified only by the initial “A”. She suffers from haemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH).
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Granting consent against the parents’ wishes, the judge said that he had to decide the case on the basis of “medical knowledge, evidence and reason”, all of which a miracle, by definition, would defy.
The judge said: “Whilst I respect the faith of the parents, I must leave entirely out of account any possibility of a miraculous cure.”
He added: “If the opportunity of a transplant is not taken, a very real prospect of a full life, weighed against certain death, will have been lost for a few more months of babyhood.”
The judge said that while “A” is currently well, and living at home with her parents and older siblings, she has already been very ill.
“Without treatment, it is a medical certainty she will die; and probable that she will die by about the age of one, or within another year or so from now at the very most. The only effective treatment is a bone marrow transplant.
“In the circumstances of this case, the doctors estimate that such a transplant has about a 50 per cent prospect of effecting a lasting cure so she then has a normal life expectancy.
“There is also about a 10 per cent prospect that she will die during and as a direct result of the treatment, a 30 per cent prospect that the treatment will not be successful and she will still die from her underlying HLH, and a 10 per cent prospect that, although she survives, she may have some significant impairment.”
He said that the parents are a “happily married, well educated, professional couple with a very good understanding of scientific matters”.
He also said that the parents are both “strong, committed and regularly practising Christians“, and that their final position opposing the treatment reflected elements of both their religious beliefs and consideration of scientific evidence.
He said that in her written evidence, the mother said: “I am a Christian and both me and my husband have faith and hope that God can heal our daughter, and our conviction is that He will heal her.”
On the witness stand, she added: “We strongly believe that God has the ability to heal her. We hope fervently that He will do so. Our belief in a miracle gives us the ability to make decisions for her quality of life, even if short term.”
However, the judge ruled that he must ignore the possibility of a miracle.
He said: “I must decide this case on the basis of medical knowledge and experience, the evidence and reason. By definition, a miracle defies medical science and all known experience and reason. Whilst I respect the faith of the parents, I must leave entirely out of account any possibility of a miraculous cure.”
The judge said that, as the child lives at home, the parents “do and will have the final control over whether ‘A’ undergoes a bone marrow transplant or not”.
However, Mr Justice Holman added: “The parents are law abiding people who respect the authority of his court, and, I hope, its wisdom.” He said that the parents had said at the hearing that, were he to find in the way he has, they would “most probably” feel they should co-operate.