09:02, September 09 73 0 theguardian.com

2019-09-09 09:02:03
Hospital breaching girl's religious rights in life support row, court told

An NHS hospital’s refusal to allow the parents of a seriously ill five-year-old girl to fly her to Italy for treatment is in breach of her and her parents’ rights to religious beliefs and EU free movement law, a court has heard.

Tafida Raqeeb has been in hospital since suffering a traumatic brain injury in February and is on a life support machine at the Royal London hospital. The Gaslini children’s hospital in Genoa is willing to continue to treat her but doctors in London believe it would be against her best interests and that she should be removed from life support.

On Monday at a hearing of a judicial review challenging the refusal of Bart’s NHS trust, which runs the Royal London hospital, to release Tafida for travel to Italy, Vikram Sachdeva QC, representing Tafida, said the case was “every parent’s nightmare”.

Distinguishing the case from similar ones such as Charlie Gard, Alfie Evans and Isaiah Haastrup, he said clinicians agreed Tafida could potentially live another 10 to 20 years with ventilation. Sachdeva also highlighted that there had been instances of patients with similar conditions who had eventually been discharged for ventilation at home.

“The question might be asked: well, why is Tafida not going to be given that chance?” he said.

Sachdeva said the Gaslini, which he described as Italy’s Great Ormond Street, was not offering experimental treatment but unlike the Royal London it would not switch off life support in the absence of brain cell death.

He said the Italian approach chimed with the religious beliefs previously shown by Tafida “despite her tender age”, as well as those of her parents, Shelina Begum, 39, and Mohammed Raqeeb, 45. He summarised their belief as: “It’s for God to take life and not mankind.”

In his skeleton argument, David Lock QC, representing Tafida’s parents, who were in court watching proceedings, said: “Tafida’s parents have no desire to impose their ethics and values on anyone else but equally wish to assert the right to live their own lives and act as parents in accordance with their own ethics and values. The trust has a duty to respect their right to their religion under article 9 of the ECHR [European convention on human rights].”

Lock said the weight attached to religious beliefs was “significantly greater” in Italy and withdrawal of treatment leading to her death would be “profoundly against the moral and religious values of Tafida’s parents”.

Tafida suffered a bleed on the brain on 9 February and went into cardiac arrest. All parties agree she has suffered extensive irreversible brain damage.

Sachdeva stressed that unlike in the Gard and Evans cases, “Tafida is not in pain and there is no evidence of any suffering.”

He said the refusal of Bart’s to allow her to travel to Italy was also unlawful under EU free movement law, which provides a right to receive services anywhere in the EU.

“Where the chosen medical team is based in another EU state, a refusal by an NHS hospital in this jurisdiction to cooperate with the transfer represents an interference with EU free movement rights, which will be unlawful unless objectively justified for a compelling reason such as protection of public health,” he told the court.

Arriving at court on Monday after seeing Tafida in hospital, Begum said: “I did follow Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans and I never knew in my wildest dreams I’d be here today, fighting for my daughter’s life. I promised my daughter: we’ll get you out of this hospital.”

The case continues.

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