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Last Updated: Friday, 8 October, 2004, 12:51 GMT 13:51 UK
Q&A: The Charlotte Wyatt case
The parents of seriously ill premature baby Charlotte Wyatt have lost their legal battle to overturn a court order allowing doctors to let her die if she stops breathing.

The judge sided with doctors treating the 18-month-old baby, who wanted permission not to resuscitate her as her quality of life would be so poor.

BBC News Online examines why the parents and doctors disagreed.

Q: Who is Charlotte Wyatt?

Darren Wyatt with Charlotte
Charlotte's survival has confounded doctors' expectations

Charlotte was born in October 2003 when her mother was 26 weeks pregnant and now has serious heart and lung problems. She has never left hospital and needs a constant supply of oxygen.

But her survival so far has confounded medical experts who said she would not survive the winter.

Q: What was the case about?

Doctors at the Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust said they believed if she stopped breathing they should not revive her as her quality of life would be so poor and be dominated by pain.

But her parents, Darren and Debbie, disagreed, saying she deserved every chance.

The case first came to the High Court last October when the judge sided with doctors.

It was brought back to the High Court again this year by the parents, but the judge has refused to overturn the original decision.

Although he said the decision should remain subject to review.

Q: Why do the doctors not want to resuscitate Charlotte?

They said there is no way her life can improve. Despite their best efforts, she is in constant pain and reviving her would not be beneficial because her quality of life would be so poor.

She also has no prospect of living beyond infancy.

She is kept in hospital and there is little prospect of her ever being allowed home at the moment, doctors have claimed.

Q: What do her parents say?

Charlotte's parents, both committed Christians, believe she is developing.

They have told the court that she can see and, to a limited extent, hear. She also smiles.

This was in contrast to her condition when the case first came to court last October when she was almost totally unresponsive.

Q: Don't parents have the final say on treatment?

No. Doctors can refuse to treat a person if they feel the treatment serves no purpose or if the quality of life is deemed to be so low that it is not in the patient's interest.

However, if the family and doctors disagree it is left to the High Court to decide.

Q: Was this the first case of its kind?

It was not the first time doctors and parents have ended up in court in these situations but previous hearings have been held in private.

Both Charlotte's parents and the Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust agreed to it being held in the open court because they felt it was in the public interest.

Q: Are we likely to see anymore cases similar to this one?

Perhaps. Some believe that with medicine advancing so quickly society is going to have to answer more of these dilemmas.

Doctors can now keep premature babies alive even when they are born three months early and seriously ill people can survive for longer than they have ever been able to.

But the developments mean doctors, patients and their families have to ask themselves whether the future quality of life warrants it.




SEE ALSO:
Baby 'should be allowed to die'
21 Apr 05 |  Hampshire
Ruling on sick baby after Easter
15 Mar 05 |  Hampshire



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