Archie Battersbee: What happens when life support is withdrawn for a ‘brain dead’ patient?
The 12-year-old boy has been on the ventilator for months after he was found unconscious at home in April 2022
The engrossing case of a UK boy named Archie Battersbee has grabbed worldwide attention while also raising numerous difficult questions. Archie has reportedly been on life support treatment for months after he attempted an online challenge in April and was found unconscious by his mother with a cord around his neck.
The doctors treating him have pronounced him "brain-stem dead," or brain dead in regular parlance, and want to withdraw ventilator support that is keeping him alive. His parents – Hollie Dance and Paul Battersbee – do not think the same way. They believe that they and their son have every right to get the medical care and to obtain that, they have filed multiple appeals in the High court, Court of Appeal as well as the Supreme Court to prevent the hospital from withdrawing life support services. However, sadly they have been turned down everytime in Archie's "best interest".
On Wednesday, August 3, they even knocked on the door of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) so that the removal of life support could be postponed. But the institution in France’s Strasbourg rejected it. Now, in their latest effort to give Archie the “peaceful death” he deserves, his family has presented a request before the High Court so that the boy can be taken to a hospice.
Archie’s mother Hollie Dance said, “What is dignified in dying in a busy hospital room full of noise with the door open, people coming in and out continuously, when Archie could be in a very peaceful garden with squirrels and wildlife running around to have his life support withdrawn there.”
What is brain death and what happens if life saving treatment is withdrawn?
As per the National Health Service (NHS), a person is declared brain dead or brain-stem dead when they have been “on an artificial life support machine” and their brain is not working. The site also says that “this means they will not regain consciousness or be able to breathe without support. A person who's brain dead is legally confirmed as dead. They have no chance of recovery because their body is unable to survive without artificial life support.”
Besides, the UK law notes that “if someone's brain dead, the damage is irreversible and the person has died.” The NHS added, “It can be confusing to be told someone has brain death, because their life support machine will keep their heart beating and their chest will still rise and fall with every breath from the ventilator.”
Speaking of life support, it has also been said that being on life support does not always mean that the person has died. There are many times when patients are provided with life support treatment for sometime “to aid their recovery and are taken off it when their body can survive by itself,” The Daily Mirror reported.
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But in the case of brain dead, it’s advised to switch off life support so that the patient can die “if there is no chance of recovery.” “When a person who is brain dead is taken off life support, they will die within minutes because they will not be able to breathe on their own,” The Daily Mirror report added.