'Spare a thought for the doctors looking after Archie Battersbee'

JAN MOIR: Spare a thought for the doctors who looked after Archie Battersbee so devotedly with so little thanks

By the time you read this, Archie Battersbee may have died. Or he may still be clinging on to life, locked in a world where only machines keep him alive.

He has been in a coma since April, when he was hospitalised after, his mother believes, attempting the ‘blackout challenge’, a dangerous TikTok trend that has killed at least two other children.

Doctors believe Archie is brain-stem dead and, having exhausted every medical avenue over the past four months, they argued it would be better for the 12-year-old if he were allowed to die.

They wanted to switch off his life-support machine and let him go in peace. However, his parents, Hollie Dance and Paul Battersbee, did not agree with this diagnosis — and a terrible battle ensued.

They took their fight to keep him alive to the United Nations, to the Supreme Court and finally to the European Court of Human Rights. The latter decreed that they would not interfere with previous court rulings, bringing the parents right back to square one.

Suffused with grief at her son’s seemingly hopeless predicament, Miss Dance said some damning things about his NHS treatment.

‘They haven’t given Archie any care,’ she complained this week.

One can understand her anguish while simultaneously appreciating that this is patently not true. Not just because Archie has been in an ICU for all this time at an approximate cost of £225,000 — not that the money matters.

Archie’s parents have fought hard to try to remove their brain-damaged son from the London hospital bed where he is being kept alive on a vent. Pictured: Archie Battersbee

Hollie Dance, mother of 12-year-old Archie Battersbee, with an unidentified man, speaks to the media outside the Royal London hospital in Whitechapel, east London, after the European Court of Human Rights refused an application to postpone the withdrawal of his life support

It is more that medical teams at Barts and at the Royal Hospital in London have worked around the clock to keep Archie alive — but even the most dedicated ICU worker cannot perform miracles.

Hollie’s words may be insulting and unfair, but she is swaddled in the blanket of compassion that the parent of every desperately ill child warrants, even if their ungratefulness sometimes grates. For emotions are running high and everyone understands that.

And we have been here before. Four years ago in Liverpool, a little boy called Alfie Evans had a neuro-degenerative disorder so rare it didn’t even have a name.

He was treated at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital for 15 months before doctors applied to have his life-support machine switched off. His parents convinced themselves the hospital was not fit for purpose and began a battle that went all the way to the Vatican.

The year before it was a baby called Charlie Gard. When doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital first suggested that further medical intervention would not be in Charlie’s best interests, and that he should be moved to palliative care, his father and mother disagreed. They argued in the courts that their critically ill child, not yet one-year-old, should be allowed to undergo experimental treatment in the U.S.

Archie, of Southend-On-Sea, Essex, suffered brain damage at home on April 7 and is in coma. Medics say he is ‘brain dead’ 

Again, this request was denied, and in both cases it was the opinion of the doctors, and not the wishes of the parents, that prevailed.

And rightly so, because doctors must do what is in the best interest of their patients, not the interests of the distraught parents.

These life-or-death situations with sick children are difficult enough to witness from the sidelines. One can only imagine the horror of being an involved parent; helpless in the face of what they see as intransigent medical opinion, desperate to delay the approaching hour of death.

Perhaps that is why, unable to accept the inevitable, parents embark on these doomed legal manoeuvres. The meetings, the court appearances; it all gives false illusion of a battle the parents can fight, maybe even win.

Mum and Dad are not sitting around shredding their fingernails; they are squaring up to the doctors, who conveniently provide them with an enemy in clear sight. An enemy that is easier to combat than the dreadful, unwinnable situation that is the reality of their position.

The media attention on their struggle must be gratifying, too, as the world watches and the sick child becomes a cause celebre.

‘The atmosphere at the hospital is very tense,’ said a television reporter outside the Royal London Hospital yesterday morning. I bet it was.

perhaps one day, though, the parents might come to understand that these caring professionals are friends, not foes — instead of using legal battles as a kind of coping strategy.

At some point this week, the Battersbee family seemed finally to accept that time was running out for Archie. Yet the fight was still not over.

At the time of writing, they were pursuing a last request to move Archie to a hospice where he could ‘die in peace’.

Doctors were against this, arguing that the child’s unstable condition meant that moving him would be too big a risk.

A spokeswoman for his family said it was ‘absolutely disgusting’ that the family were ‘not even allowed to choose where Archie takes his last moments’.

The word ‘inhumane’ was also tossed around.

But is it really disgusting? Or is it just that frail Archie might not survive the journey and would possibly die in pain and chaos in a hospital corridor?

One can see why moving Archie to the relative peace of a hospice room might be easier for his family, but it won’t necessarily be easier for him.

In the end, in all these tragic cases, the law inevitably decides that the wishes of the parents are trumped by the learned opinion of the doctors.

In Archie’s case, they have decided that the kindest thing of all would be to let nature take its terrible course.

Unlike Archie’s parents, I don’t see this as cruel or inhumane — but the very highest form of pure compassion that the medical profession can offer.

The loss for the Battersbee family is a devastating one, and they have all my sympathy.

But spare a thought for the doctors and medics who have looked after Archie devotedly and been given so little thanks for their efforts. They deserve our support and prayers, too.

Lucky 13 for cave heroes

I am not ashamed to say that I wept watching Thirteen Lives, the new Hollywood film that depicts the heroic rescue of 12 young members of a Thai football team and their coach, trapped in the flooded Tham Luang cave complex.

Directed by Ron Howard, it tells the true story of the 2018 mission, led by British divers Richard Stanton (Viggo Mortensen) and John Volanthen (Colin Farrell) along with American Chris Jewell (Tom Bateman), and Australian anaesthetist Harry Harris (Joel Edgerton). 

Led by the Brits, the men concocted a plan to rescue the boys by knocking them out with atropine and ketamine, then floating them out ‘like packages’.

It was unethical, illegal and dangerous — a last-resort plan that could have gone terribly wrong, but went terribly right instead.

I loved these men; so determined not to be seen as heroes who risked their lives to rescue 13 strangers. What a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit.

Plucky Shania does impress me much!

‘I am going to make my own way and I’m not going to depend on anyone else. The minute you depend on someone else you lose . . . the right to decide for yourself. So you just have to go for it. Be fearless.’

So says Shania Twain in Not Just A Girl, a rather wonderful Netflix documentary about her life.

JAN MOIR: Shania’s life is like a country and western song, but she’s pulled through it all. (Pictured: Shania Twain at an event in New York City in 2020)

I had no idea the Canadian-born singer came from such a hardscrabble background, nor that her life had been so difficult. 

Her parents died in a car crash, her husband ran off with her best friend, she later married the husband of the woman who’d betrayed her and then caught Lyme disease after being bitten by a tick.

Shania’s life is like a country and western song, but she’s pulled through it all.

‘Life unravels the way it does, but you have to take responsibility for dealing with it,’ she says. That sure does impress me much, as she once almost sang.

Don’t waste time worrying about the poor Princesses of York

Do you lie awake at night worrying about poor Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie, especially the financial provision made for their future?

Me neither. When Granny has got about £300 million in the bank, life takes on a different fiscal complexion. A much rosier one! You can squawk all you like about being independent career women — and they do — but none of it matters.

You will never have to search down the back of the sofa for pound coins or worry about interest rate rises. You’ve got royal blood, you’ve got connections, you’ve got Fergie as your mother.

For you, money is something that is spirited out of thin air, like fairy dust or promises or lovely cash gifts from the Bin Laden family.

After years of pleading poverty, Fergie has somehow found enough sixpences to buy a £6.75 million property in Mayfair.

How on earth can she afford that? I know it’s Jackanory time, but surely it can’t be from reading children’s stories on her YouTube channel? But listen! The house is not for Fergie — she says it is an ‘investment for the girls’.

One can see why the Yorks are desperate to leave their daughters something, apart from a legacy of embarrassment and cringe, but still.

At the age of 84, Jane Fonda regrets having a facelift — but why?

What’s the alternative for women such as her?

There is little merit in collapsing into the furrows of old age if you have the cheekbones and the funds for the alternative. Jane is still a marvel; born in the year that the ballpoint pen and instant coffee were invented and still going just as strong as them.

She says that keeping physically fit has kept her mentally fit — a good late-life lesson for all of us.

Spaghetti junction for Mrs Clegg

Nick Clegg and his wife Miriam Gonzalez Durantez arrive at Hall Park Hill Community Centre to cast their votes in the general election on May 7, 2015 in Sheffield, England

Uh oh. Nick Clegg and the ghastly Mrs Clegg (‘Don’t call me Mrs Clegg’) are to return to the UK from California, where he is a highly paid Facebook executive.

Don’t think I have forgotten that on her Instagram account weeks after moving to the U.S, Mrs Clegg posted a picture of the ‘British corner’ of a supermarket. 

It depicted a row of Heinz spaghetti tins and she wrote sneeringly: ‘Brexiteers would be proud.’ 

Oooh, she makes my spaghetti curl with contempt. Welcome back, Miriam!

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