Legal battle over brain death: Family of 12-year-old Archie hopes for miracles

When do you give up with a seriously ill child? In the UK, people are following with compassion the case of 12-year-old Archie Battersbee, who suffered severe brain damage in an accident in April and whose fate is now awaiting judges to decide.

Legal battle over brain death: Family of 12-year-old Archie hopes for miracles

When do you give up with a seriously ill child? In the UK, people are following with compassion the case of 12-year-old Archie Battersbee, who suffered severe brain damage in an accident in April and whose fate is now awaiting judges to decide.

As of April 7, 2022, nothing in the life of Archie Battersbee's family has been the same. That day, his mother Hollie Dance found the 12-year-old unconscious at home in Southend-on-Sea, UK. It initially appears that he accidentally choked off his breath in a strange accident. Later, his mother suspects that her son might have taken part in a Tiktok challenge.

In November 2021 there was a similar case in Italy. Antonella from Palermo, Sicily, probably followed the "Blackout Challenge". The aim was to cut off your breath for as long as possible. She had locked herself in the bathroom and filmed with her cell phone how she was suffocating with her bathrobe belt. Her sister finally discovered Antonella unconscious, in the hospital the doctors were still fighting for the life of the girl, but then had to declare brain death. The girl was only ten years old.

Archie Battersbee was also taken to the hospital immediately and has since been treated at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel. He has not regained consciousness since April 7. In June, his treating physicians said they believe he is "very likely" brain dead. The logical consequence of this assessment for the doctors is that the life-support machines are switched off. In this case, a court decision should pave the way for this. The British health system NHS has a reputation for ending expensive treatments sooner rather than later.

At the beginning of June 2022, an unnamed specialist from the medical team explained the current assessment of a previously performed brain and spine scan. Accordingly, the lower part of Archie Battersbee's brainstem is significantly damaged, the upper part is also damaged. Archie's prognosis is "very serious" and the chances of recovery are "very low".

Since then, the boy's family has been fighting with all their strength against the cessation of medical support for the 12-year-old. Parents Hollie Dance and Paul Battersbee argue their child's heart is still beating. They absolutely want the treatment to continue. They also cite as evidence that Archie returns the pressure when they hold his hands. "I think that's his way of telling me he's still here and just needs more time," Dance told the BBC.

As has been the case in similar cases, such as that of Alfie Evans in 2018, a family struggles not to give up on a child too early. Alfie had a severe neurological condition, unable to move, hear or speak. According to the doctors, almost his entire brain was damaged. Even if an exact diagnosis of his illness was not possible, the attending physicians took the view that further life-sustaining measures were pointless. Prolonging his suffering is inhuman. Alfie's parents, on the other hand, argued for further treatment and also tried to legally enforce it. After a final decision, the supporting machines were finally switched off. Alfie then breathed on his own for a short time, but then died eleven days before his second birthday.

Whether Archie's case will occupy the courts for a similar length of time cannot yet be foreseen. But every argument from the parents is followed by an explanation from the doctors. For example, they tend to attribute the supposed reaction to holding hands to a tightening of the muscles.

They justify the hopelessness of Archie's situation with the serious injuries that the boy suffered in April. His brainstem is 50 percent damaged, with 10 to 20 percent already showing that the tissue there has died. For the doctors, Archie has already "died, taking into account the probabilities (...) as a result of an irreversible cessation of brainstem function," as the court said. The brainstem lies at the base of the brain above the spinal cord. It is responsible for regulating most of the body's vital automatic functions.

Archie's separated parents are getting legal support from the organization Christian Legal Centre. Since mid-May, money has also been collected on a Gofundme page, initially to pay for medical tests or treatments. According to the initiators, the money is now also being used for the legal dispute. The original target of £20,000 has long been exceeded, and many of the donors express their sympathy for the family and encourage them to keep fighting.

Hollie Dance regularly gives interviews. She told the BBC that she sleeps next to her son's hospital bed every night. "He's so beautiful - he's angelic. It's no different than home. He looks peaceful - he's asleep," says Dance. She also talks to him and says, "You really need to wake up now because we're having the biggest fight of our lives and it's going to be really great if you help me."

Archie's family is asking for more time for their boy, who practiced martial arts and gymnastics prior to that fateful April 7th. He just needs time to recover from a serious brain injury. "I know they don't have a lot of beds in the hospital but I don't understand the rush," Archie's mother told Sky.

Perhaps Archie is as unlikely a case as then-18-year-old Lewis Roberts was hit by a van in March 2021, suffering serious head injuries. After a few days in the hospital, he was pronounced brain dead. Shortly before his organs were to be donated, he began to breathe on his own again. Six months after the accident, he was able to speak again for the first time. His family reports that he responds to pain tests by blinking, moving his limbs, head and mouth.

Archie's parents appealed again after a court ordered the life support machines turned off. Another court hearing is scheduled for July 11. Until then, they hope for a miracle.

(This article was first published on Saturday, July 02, 2022.)

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