The Stollery Children's Hospital and the Walter C. Mackenzie Health Science Centr.
Credits: TOM BRAID/EDMONTON SUN/QMI AGENCY
EDMONTON — An Edmonton judge was asked Friday to order that a child -- who is in a permanent coma after allegedly being assaulted by her parents -- be taken off life support.
The tragic case is compounded by the fact the parents are being held in custody after being charged with starving, neglecting and assaulting their two-year-old twin daughters and they are not allowed to speak to each other.
As well, while the parents are being advised by a medical team to pull the plug on their daughter -- who is currently dependent on both a ventilator and a breathing tube -- it might not be in their best interests as her death would likely result in their charges being upgraded to murder.
An application by the director of Child and Family Services landed the case in Court of Queen's Bench and Justice June Ross heard medical testimony and arguments from opposing lawyers on Friday.
Dr. Allan de Caen, a pediatric intensivist at Edmonton's Stollery Children's Hospital, testified that he and an advisory committee have recommended the child be kept comfortable and all life-saving machines be disconnected.
He also told court he has visited the parents at the Edmonton Remand Centre and counseled them.
"This is a child who is likely to die in the short to medium term," said de Caen, explaining that while the girl has not been officially classified as brain-dead, she is in a "permanent coma" and unable to breathe on her own.
He also testified she has suffered three episodes of pneumonia and will likely soon need a tracheostomy, a procedure creating an opening in the neck for a breathing tube.
He also said it is a "major challenge" to keep her at the level she is now at and he is worried that if she deteriorates, further invasive procedures would be needed.
As de Caen testified, the child's mom began crying and slumped over sobbing. The dad, who was listening attentively with his arms folded, appeared to tear up slightly.
Dr. Hanna Kolski, a pediatric neurologist, told court the girl is paralyzed and in a "persistent vegetative state."
Kolski testified she does not expect a substantial recovery and it is "exceedingly unlikely" she will ever regain consciousness. She added that, regardless what happens, the girl would have "very severe" neurological problems.
A lawyer for the director of Child and Family Services, said the director "has no specific position" and is simply bringing the matter to court for the judge's discretion.
Lawyers for the parents argued the judge should leave it up to the couple and not make a decision, saying they are unable to give consent to withdraw life support as a result of religious convictions and love for their daughter.
A lawyer representing the girl asked the judge to consider the medical recommendations for either a de-escalation or withdrawal of treatment and said the criminal process has "eroded" the parents having her best interests.
Ross is slated to give her decision on Sept. 14.
The couple, who cannot be named under a publication ban protecting the identity of the children, are charged with aggravated assault, criminal negligence causing bodily harm and failing to provide the necessaries of life.
Police have called it a "disturbing case" of child abuse and say the twins were found on May 25 severely malnourished and injured. One has since recovered.