9th September 2019

By John Deighan

Tafida Raqueeb

 No instinct can be stronger than the natural desire of a mother to protect her child, and few rights can be so solidly based as that of recognising the rights of parents to determine the best interests of their own children as they see them, unless it is clear they are causing the child significant harm. Both these aspects are at the heart of the case of Tafida Raqeeb, a 5-year-old girl in a coma, whose life is being fought for by her parents in court today.

"Best interests"

Doctors have effectively decided that it is in Tafida’s best interests to die. This is a terrifying principle that was established in the UK in 1993 when courts ruled that Tony Band, who was severely injured in the Hillsborough disaster, could be deliberately dehydrated to death. In the intervening years, the principle has been increasingly cemented in legal and medical practice across the UK.

In Tafida’s case, she is reliant on ventilation at her current hospital. Whilst ventilation is not as 'basic' as tube-feeding (which is closer to the normal human activity of spoon-feeding someone) and ventilation can more easily be withdrawn when the patient is not benefiting enough from it.  However, ventilation should never be withdrawn because life is not seen as a benefit at all. Nor should parents be overridden when they want to transfer their child, in a way that does not harm her, for alternative medical care.

Such policies are the fruit of many years of effort to undermine the values that were once the foundation of our laws. The Hippocratic Oath was once proudly adhered to and doctors had no hesitation in proclaiming the sanctity of life. It was the principle of the sanctity of life which motivated laws on homicide and encouraged the development of duties on authorities to protect life.

Abortion has poisoned attitudes to healthcare

The introduction of legalised abortion was the fatal change which permitted the poisoning of a whole society in its attitudes to healthcare and the value of human lives. The poison has corrupted a host of rights which were part of the protective framework around our citizens. Thus we have got to the stage where a mother is now having to plead before a judge to be allowed to seek alternative help for her sick daughter. There are of course circumstances when treatments are no longer effective or when the burden of them is too great for the patient to endure. At that point, the patient should receive comfort and basic care. But it can never be legitimate to seek death as an aim of the treatment or denial of treatment. The reason for withholding or withdrawing treatment should never be a life is no longer worthy to continue.

In the case of Tafida Raqeeb, doctors from a reputable hospital in Italy are eager and willing to help the young girl. Her family is desperate to give her this chance. There is no indication that young Tafida will be harmed in the transfer to the Italian hospital. The actions of the doctors in London, determined to act contrary to the wishes of the parents and to deny the hope offered by medics in Italy, are hard to fathom.  The UK doctors may well see such efforts as hopeless, but is that simply because they think Tafida's life has no intrinsic value and dignity? Will our courts really allow these doctors to override the wishes of parents about their own child?

The answers are of the highest significance to every person and every family in the nation. The laws and procedures of a society arise to protect the wellbeing of its citizens. Our democratic structures are built from the citizen upwards by the choosing of political systems and political representatives. If we have come to the stage of accepting that those on high have the power to overturn the most basic of rights of the citizenry, then we have abandoned ourselves to a totalitarian system and one which is all the more dangerous because it doesn’t have the hallmarks of the repressive totalitarian systems with which we are familiar. Not, that is, until you find it inside your own home or in the case of Tafida’s parents, in the hospital ward you have turned to for the care of your child.