Press Release: Catholic Bioethics Centre Highlights Deeply Flawed Court Decision to Withdraw Treatment From Five-Year-Old Child

Press Statement – Pippa Knight: The Benefit of Being Cared for Unawares

A decision made on 8 January 2021 by an English court would withdraw life-sustaining treatment from severely disabled child, Pippa Knight, despite her mother’s wish that she be allowed to live. [1] David Albert Jones, Director of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre, expresses his serious concern over the judge’s decision, stating ‘the ethical reasoning is deeply flawed’.

Jones explains that while in some cases withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment may be justifiable, ‘when treatment would have been beneficial and not unduly burdensome [this] is nothing less than abandonment’.

The judge based his decision on the belief that ‘a young child with no conscious awareness suffers burdens but enjoys no benefits from the prolongation of life’. [2]

Jones highlights the double standard of the judge who, having recognised that invasive treatment is an objective burden, even if the person is unaware of it, failed to recognise that sustaining life is also an objective benefit even to someone who is not aware of it.

More concerning, Jones argues, is that the judge ‘failed to recognise that there is an objective benefit in receiving care from a loved one in your own home’. A state should not ‘usurp the role of the parent unless it can show the parent is being clearly unreasonable such that the child is in danger’.

Jones notes: ‘in this case there were differences of medical opinion among experts’. Given this, he continues: ‘it was clearly reasonable for Pippa’s mother to seek to follow the opinion that accorded with her view of the child’s best interests. It is unjust in such a case for the judge to take this decision away from her’.

The decision of the High Court is currently under appeal. It remains to be seen whether this deeply flawed decision will be overturned. Whatever the legal outcome, the staff of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre wish to express our solidarity with Pippa, her mother and all her family as they go through this deeply painful time and assure them of our prayers for Pippa and for those around her.

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