Page last updated at 18:14 GMT, Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Mixed emotions over baby decision

By Jane Peel
BBC News

A baby's hand
The judge described the outcome as sad but inevitable

A father who went to the High Court to try to stop a hospital turning off his seriously ill baby son's life support machine has dropped his objections to the move. The outcome has prompted a mixture of sadness and relief.

For six days they had sat in the bland surroundings of Court 50 at London's High Court listening to others talking about their baby son's quality of life.

A host of paediatricians, nurses, and experts went into the witness box. Many of them urged a judge to decide that this profoundly disabled 13-month-old boy should be allowed to die. It was, they said, no longer in his best interests to keep him alive.

The estranged but devoted parents of the baby, known only as RB, had endured this often harrowing evidence stoically for much of the time. As day seven began, it was clear something had changed.

The baby's father, AB, and mother, KM, sitting just a few spaces apart on the wooden benches, were in tears. Only in their 20s themselves, they each had the emotional support of their mothers.

As soon as the judge, Mr Justice McFarlane, took his seat, the father's barrister asked for the media to be excluded from court.

Palpable sense

It was more than two hours later before we were allowed back in to hear the news.

AB had dropped his opposition to doctors withdrawing his son's life support. All parties were now in agreement. The ventilator keeping baby RB alive should be switched off.

They now wanted privacy... to spend what little time remained with their beloved son

There was an almost palpable sense of relief tinged with tragedy. The tragedy was that all of us present now knew that Baby RB was not long for this world.

The relief was that it would not fall to a court to decide between the competing views of doctors, nurses and the mother on one side, and the child's father on the other.

One sensed that the judge was relieved too that his role had been reduced to merely endorsing the views of others more intimately involved in the case of Baby RB. He described the outcome as sad but inevitable.

Mr Justice McFarlane did not have to do anything other than make an official order allowing the withdrawal of the baby's ventilator.

'Immense stress'

He chose to say more, issuing what amounted to a tribute to the dedication and love shown to Baby RB by his parents. He said they had been at his side throughout his short life.

"They have put their own adult lives on hold," he said. "The stress has been immense, it has cost them their relationship, but still they work together and do what they can to support their son.

"When faced with the awfulness of the situation in which they found themselves, these two young people have stepped up to the plate and discharged the responsibility that life had thrust upon them by each showing 100% commitment to their child in a manner which can only command profound respect and admiration."

So, as KM and AB left court, they might have drawn some comfort from the judge's words, but their thoughts and hearts will have been with their little child, in a hospital's intensive care unit, breathing only with the help of a machine.

Soon - at a time they and the son's doctors decide is right - that machine will be switched off.

They now wanted privacy, they said in a joint statement, to spend what little time remained with their beloved son.

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