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Judge’s decision to remove Edmonton child from life support stayed
An Edmonton judge has ruled that a two-year-old girl currently in a coma should be taken off life-support and put into palliative care despite objections from the girl’s parents, who are accused of abusing the child.
However, Justice June Ross’s decision was stayed by an appeal court within hours so an appeal by the girl’s parents could be heard.
"It is a difficult situation," said Appeal Court Judge Jean Cote after his ruling late Friday afternoon. "There are some drawbacks to any possible decision here."
Paramedics found the girl, identified as Baby M, and her twin sister in an Edmonton home on May 25. Both girls were malnourished and suffering from injuries and Baby M was in cardiac arrest.
The child’s parents, both 34 years old, have been charged with aggravated assault, criminal negligence causing bodily harm and failing to provide the necessities of life.
They cannot be named to protect the identity of the children.
The parents, originally from Algeria, are asking to keep their daughter alive against doctors’ recommendations because of their Muslim beliefs.
In an affidavit, the father wrote: "My religious belief is that if it is Allah's will that despite all the doctors can do for (her) that she passes from this life, then it is God's will. As a devout Muslim and loving father I find it unthinkable to agree to limit or withdraw medical treatment."
However, because the parents’ charges could be elevated to murder if Baby M dies, Justice June Ross found their desire to keep her alive suspicious.
"They are, inherently, in a conflict of interest," she wrote in her decision Friday. "I am left with a concern that their decision may in fact be affected by self-interest."
Doctors have testified that Baby M’s condition is believed to be permanent and she is close to brain dead.
Since being admitted to hospital her condition has remained unchanged and she has suffered three bouts of pneumonia.
Doctors said the toddler is deeply comatose and completely dependent on technology to survive.
If Baby M remains on the respirator she must undergo a tracheostomy, which involves making an incision in the girl’s neck to make a direct airway.
Ross rejected the arguments that religious beliefs should be considered, as the girl is too young to have her own beliefs.
"The beliefs are those of (the girl's) parents, not her own," Ross wrote.
The judge also said the parents' beliefs do not trump the needs of the child.
"The religious practices of (the girl's) parents are properly limited where they are contrary to (the girl's) best interests in a fundamental way."
The lawyer representing the parents told the appeal court on Friday that her clients have lost the right to make decisions on behalf of their child, despite the fact they remain her legal guardian and that the charges against them haven't been proved.
"When we apprehend a child and we charge the parents, do they then lose the ability to make medical decisions on behalf of their children because of a situation they're put in?" April Kellet asked.
Lawyer JoAnn Quinn, who spoke on behalf of the girl, said it is her best interests that should prevail.
"(Her) emaciated, paralyzed, lifeless body must speak for her."
The parents were arrested in May after police found Baby M in cardiac arrest.
The 27-month-old girl and her twin sister were both severely underweight.
The couple’s son was found to be in good health. He was taken to foster care.
With files from The Canadian Press