Statement from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
The Alfie Evans case is extremely difficult for all involved; heartbreaking for his parents and emotionally challenging for the doctors and nurses involved in treating and caring for him.
As healthcare professionals involved in the care of babies, children and young people, the priority has to be the child. Every action and decisions 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.
We can’t comment on the specifics of the case – only the medical team treating Alfie, and the legal team, will know the exact details and they are bound by patient confidentiality.
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 the UK we are fortunate to have a clear and compassionate framework to guide practice which includes three key sets of circumstances when withdrawing life-sustaining treatment may be considered. These are:
- If treatment is unable or unlikely to result in the child living much longer
- Where treatment may prolong life but will cause the child unacceptable pain and suffering
- If an older child with a life limiting illness repeatedly makes it clear they do not want treatment and this decision is supported by their parents and doctors.
Decisions on whether to withdraw treatment from a child are unfortunately ones that need to be made frequently. The model is always for doctors to work closely with parents to agree on the best course of action for the child. 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.
In difficult situations such as these, and amongst the plethora of voices and opinions, it is important that the public know how such decisions are made.
Professor Russell Viner, President, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health