A British judge should decide what is best for a severely-disabled five-year-old girl at the centre of a High Court life support treatment battle – not her parents, hospital bosses say.
Doctors caring for Tafida Raqeeb at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel say she has permanent brain damage, no chance of recovery, and believe life-support treatment should stop.
Bosses at Barts Health NHS Trust, which runs the hospital, want a judge to decide what is in the little girl’s best interests.
Tafida’s parents, who live in Newham, east London, want to move her to Gaslini children’s hospital in Genoa, Italy, and have organised funding.
Her mother, solicitor Shelina Begum, 39, and father, construction consultant Mohammed Raqeeb, 45, say doctors there will keep providing life-support treatment until Tafida is diagnosed as being brain dead.
Mr Justice MacDonald is analysing the dispute at a High Court trial in London.
He is hearing arguments from lawyers representing Tafida, her parents, and the trust.
Tafida’s lawyers are taking instructions from a relative.
The little girl is also represented by a specialist guardian, appointed by the judge.
A barrister heading the trust’s legal team on Tuesday said Tafida’s best interests, not her parents’ wishes, were paramount under UK law.
Katie Gollop QC said the youngster was “entitled” to a British judge’s decision.
“Parents cannot insist on treatment that is not in a child’s best interests,” said Miss Gollop.
“Nor can parents choose different countries in different legal jurisdictions to try to alter their children’s best interests.”
Miss Gollop added: “All children in this country are entitled to a judicial determination of what their best interests are.”
She said most disagreements between parents and doctors were resolved.
But she said if agreement could not be reached, hospital bosses had to ask a judge to decide.
Miss Gollop said medics and judges in England and Wales had a “legal duty” to put the child’s best interests, not parents’ wishes, first.
She told Mr Justice MacDonald that Tafida’s parents wanted the right to go to a country where they were the “sole decision makers”.
Ms Gollop said that meant changing the law, and would be a matter for Parliament.
She said the judge should dismiss the couple’s claim and put Tafida’s “medical best interests” first.
Mr Justice MacDonald has been told how Tafida woke her parents in the early hours in February complaining of a headache.
She collapsed shortly afterwards and doctors discovered that blood vessels in her brain had ruptured.
Miss Gollop said no-one had known that blood vessels in Tafida’s brain were “tangled up”.
Tafida could not now swallow, taste or see, the judge was told.
Miss Gollop said might she be able to “hear a little”.
But she could not breathe for herself and could not “experience touch” in very large parts of her body.
She said all doctors asked for an opinion, including Italian doctors, said that Tafida would “never come off a ventilator” and would always need “artificial assistance”.
Miss Gollop said doctors thought the little girl was “beyond experience”.
She said the Gaslini hospital was offering to continue life-support treatment as a “comfort” to the family.
Gaslini specialists would continue to provide life-support treatment for parents who could pay and wanted such treatment to continue, she said.
The hearing continues.