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How do medics reach decisions in cases like that of Alfie Evans?

Judges have had to weigh up complicated issues in reaching their decisions.

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Alfie Evans (Alfies Army/PA)

The court battle over the treatment of Alfie Evans has seen his parents in dispute with medics treating their child.

Judges have had to weigh up complicated issues in reaching their decisions.

Here, experts answer some of the questions related to such cases.

– Why would the decision to withdraw treatment from a child be made?

Professor Russell Viner, of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “Every action and decision is taken in the best interests of the child, and decisions on care, including the withdrawal of treatment, are always made with the involvement of parents.

Alfie's parents Kate James and Tom Evans
Alfie’s parents Kate James and Tom Evans (Philip Toscano/PA)

“However, we feel it is important for the public to know that decisions to withhold or withdraw treatment from a child are not made lightly.”

– In what circumstances does it happen?

According to the UK’s framework, treatment is withdrawn if it is unable or unlikely to result in the child living much longer, where it may prolong life but will cause the child unacceptable pain and suffering, or if an older child with a life-limiting illness repeatedly makes it clear they do not want treatment and this decision is supported by parents and doctors.

– How often are decisions like this made?

He said: “In the vast majority of cases an equal decision is made to withdraw treatment and it is rare that there is disagreement.

“The cases where this is a significant difference in view are the ones that grab the media headlines.”

– Why is Alfie continuing to breathe after life support treatment has been removed?

Professor Dominic Wilkinson, consulant neonatologist at the John Radcliffe Hospital and director of medical ethics at the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford, said: “In the last few hours, news reports have indicated that life support has been withdrawn from Alfie, and that he is breathing by himself.

Alfie is being treated at Liverpool’s Alder Hey Children’s Hospital
Tributes to Alfie at Liverpool’s Alder Hey Children’s Hospital (Peter Byrne/PA)

“The reason for stopping the breathing machines is simply that his serious condition is not treatable, and will not improve.”

He added: “Given the nature of Alfie’s condition, the doctors have wanted to provide him with palliative care, focused on his comfort, and focused on making his remaining time as good as possible.”

– Is it euthanasia?

Prof Wilkinson said: “Providing palliative care is not euthanasia. It is about providing ‘intensive caring’ rather than intensive medical care.

“It does not end the child’s life. Rather, it supports the child, and the child’s family, for as long or as short as they remain with us.”

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