David Albert Jones, director of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre in Oxford, England, commented: “One fundamental problem in these cases is the idea that there can be only one option that is in the child’s best interests because ‘there can only logically be one best option.’”
“The judge therefore seeks to identify what is best for the child independently of the wishes of the parents. However, this approach rests on the mistaken utilitarian idea that moral reasoning is a matter of mathematical calculation.”
“On the contrary, moral choices are typically between options that are good in different ways, where there are several options compatible with virtue and none is ‘the best’ in all respects.”
Jones said that the case of Alta Fixsler was similar in certain respects to those of Charlie Gard, Alfie Evans, Tafida Raqeeb, and Pippa Knight.
“These are all cases where the healthcare team caring for a severely ill child wished to withdraw life-sustaining treatment and the parents wished treatment to continue,” he noted.
“While the hospital in the U.K. was unwilling to continue to provide treatment, in all cases but one, an alternative hospital in another G7 country was willing to accept the child.”
“In all cases but one, the court declared that it would not be lawful to continue treatment in hospital or to transfer the child to be treated elsewhere.”
Jones argued that judges in such cases should focus on whether parents’ wishes were reasonable and what impact they would have on the child.
He said: “The question that judges should ask is not ‘What would I do if I were the parent of this child?’ but ‘Is the decision of the parents in this case reasonable, or does it place the child in undue danger of suffering harm?’”
The bioethicist observed that religion played a significant role in three of the cases: those of Alfie Evans (Catholicism), Tafida Raqeeb (Islam), and Alta Fixsler (Judaism).
He said that from a Catholic perspective, however, the principal issue was not religion itself.
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“Rather, it is a matter of the responsibility and thus the natural right of parents to make decisions on behalf of their children according to the principle of subsidiarity,” he suggested.
The European Court of Human Rights recognizes a “margin of appreciation” in that way that countries fulfill their obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.
“The same principle should, but currently does not, inform the way English judges regard decisions of parents concerning the best interests of their child,” Jones proposed.
He added that the principle still allowed the state to intervene in family matters to prevent harm.
“Thus, even if the English law were to reflect this principle, there would be circumstances in which the courts would overrule the parents,” he said.
He recalled that doctors believe that Alta Fixsler has a very poor prognosis.