The Government has intervened at the last minute in the case of a comatose 12-year-old boy who is due to have his life support treatment withdrawn.
Archie Battersbee is expected to have his treatment at the Royal London Hospital in east London ended at 2pm on Monday, but the Government Legal Department has asked the High Court to “urgently consider” a UN request to prevent this.
The department said it had received a request from the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on Friday, asking for time for it to consider Archie’s case following an application from the family.
Barts Health NHS Trust, which runs the hospital, had also sent a letter to the family over the weekend telling them treatment would end at 2pm on August 1.
The Government letter, written on behalf of the Health Secretary, read: “In the circumstances, we wish to draw the (UN) Committee’s request for interim measures to the Court’s attention for its urgent consideration.
“As the Family Division is seized of this matter, and the Trust is acting pursuant to the order of the Court, we request that this letter is placed before the out-of-hours judge immediately and/or, if possible, before Mr Justice Hayden.”
It comes after Archie’s mother, Hollie Dance, urged the Health Secretary to “act immediately” to stop the treatment ending, saying it would be “a flagrant breach” of his rights.
The family said stopping treatment would be in breach of the UK’s obligations under international human rights law.
Archie’s parents have asked hospital bosses to continue treatment until the UN has considered the case.
A High Court judge had previously ruled that ending treatment is in Archie’s best interests, after reviewing evidence.
Following the Government letter, Ms Dance said: “We are relieved that the Government has taken the UN’s intervention seriously. This was not a ‘request’ but an interim measures injunction from the UN.
“The anxiety of being told that Archie’s life-support will be removed tomorrow at 2pm has been horrific. We are already broken and the not-knowing what was going to happen next is excruciating.”
Archie’s parents are being supported by campaign organisation, the Christian Legal Centre.
Ms Dance and Paul Battersbee, who are separated but both live in Southend, Essex, failed to persuade Court of Appeal judges to overturn that ruling and Supreme Court justices have refused to intervene.
The letter to the family from Barts said: “We understand that any discussions around the withdrawal of Archie’s treatment are very difficult and painful.
“However, we want to ensure that you and your family are involved as much as you wish to be.”
Ms Dance and Mr Battersbee will be told on Monday morning how the withdrawal process is to be performed, with the aim to “preserve Archie’s dignity”, the letter read.
It went on: “You or any of the family may wish to lie on Archie’s bed with him or have him in your arms, if that should be practically possible.”
Writing to Health Secretary Stephen Barclay on Saturday, Ms Dance said: “If this happens, this will be an extraordinary cruelty, and a flagrant breach of Archie’s rights as a disabled person.
“Archie is entitled to have the decisions about his life and death, taken by the NHS and UK courts, to be scrutinised by an international human rights body. Hastening his death to prevent that would be completely unacceptable.
“I trust that you will now act immediately, as a member of the Government responsible for the NHS, to ensure that this does not happen, and our country honours its obligations under the international human rights treaties which we have signed and ratified.”
Judges in London have heard that Ms Dance found Archie unconscious with a ligature over his head on April 7.
She thinks he might have been taking part in an online challenge.
The youngster has not regained consciousness.
Doctors treating Archie think he is brain-stem dead and say continued life-support treatment is not in his best interests.
Alistair Chesser, chief medical officer for Barts Health NHS Trust, said on Friday that “further delay” in starting to provide “palliative care” to Archie would “not be appropriate” without a court order.
In response, the family accused Mr Chesser of making “misleading” assertions.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We recognise this is an exceptionally difficult time for Archie Battersbee’s family and our thoughts are with them.
“The Government asked the High Court to urgently consider the request from the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.”