The United Nations UN Committee on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (UN CRPD) has today (29 July) issued an injunction stating that the UK government must keep 12-year-old Archie Battersbee alive while the committee considers the case. The injunction states that life-support should not be removed despite rulings from the highest UK courts and most senior judges this week.
Taking Archie’s case to the UN
Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, the families’ lawyers had made a last-ditch application to the UN CRPD today following the refusal of the UK’s Supreme Court to intervene in the case yesterday (28 July).
The court order for the removal of life-support came into effect at 2pm yesterday, but the family lawyers sought urgent assurances that Royal London Hospital would not begin removing treatment while the parents apply to the UN CRPD.
Archie’s parents wanted the UN CRPD to consider Archie’s case, arguing it has a protocol that allows individuals and families to make complaints about violations of disabled people’s rights.
The UK has joined the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities, which enabled the UNRPD to ask the UK government to delay the withdrawal of life support while a complaint is investigated.
The family argue that stopping treatment would be in breach of the UK’s obligations under Articles 10 and 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, and Article 6 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Children.
UN urges UK government not to turn off life support
In response, the UN CRPD has written to Archie’s parents and legal team saying:
“Under article 4 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and pursuant to rule 64 of the Committee’s Rules of Procedure, the Committee, acting through its Special Rapporteur on Communications, has requested the State party to refrain from withdrawing life-preserving medical treatment, including mechanical ventilation and artificial nutrition and hydration, from the alleged victim while the case is under consideration by the Committee; this request does not imply that any decision has been reached on the substance of the matter under consideration. The Committee may review the necessity of maintaining the request for interim measures once the State party’s observations have been received.”
The UK has an obligation under international human rights law to comply with interim measures indicated by the Committee.
That obligation comes from the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The Optional Protocol creates an enforcement mechanism for the Convention, i.e. the Committee with power to monitor states’ compliance, consider individual complaint, and issue interim measures.
A number of UN Conventions have similar Optional Protocols. The UK has chosen to opt into some but not the others. (For example, Convention on the Rights of the Child has similar enforcement mechanism, but the UK has not joined it). In the case of disability rights, the UK government has taken a considered decision to join the Optional Protocol and to be bound by the decisions of the Committee.
The NHS Trust caring for Archie is an emanation of the UK state, and, therefore, the government and the Trust should honour its international human rights obligations.
The UN CRPD has previously criticised the UK system of withdrawing life-sustaining treatment based on the patient’s ‘best interests’ as determined by the Court. In its 2017 “Concluding observations on the initial report of the United Kingdom” on UK’s compliance with the Convention, the CRPD stated: “The CRPD notes with concern that the substituted decision-making applied in matters of termination or withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment and care is inconsistent with the right to life of persons with disabilities as equal and contributing members of society.”
‘This news means everything’
Responding to the news, Archie’s mum, Hollie Dance, said: “I am so grateful to the UN for their response and acting so quickly for my son. We have been under so much stress and anxiety; we are already broken and the not-knowing what was going to happen next was excruciating. To get this news now means everything.
“This is the first time this has ever happened in history of this inhumane system in the UK. There have been so many ups and downs, but we have put on the full armour of God, gone into the battle and now we have given Archie time, that is all we have ever asked for.”
‘Life is the most precious gift’
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre who have been supporting the families’ case, said: “We are delighted with the response from the UN. It is high-time that the UK’s processes around proactively ending children’s lives came under international scrutiny.
“We now hope and pray that the UN Committee may do justice to Archie and his family, as well as to other disabled people in UK hospitals in future cases.
“Life is the most precious gift we have.
“We have stood with the family from the beginning three months ago following the tragedy and now continue to pray for this beautiful boy, Archie, and for everyone involved.”
Find out more about Archie Battersbee