Dr. Lionel Dibden, acting chair of the Dept. of Pediactrics at the Stollery Children's Hospital.
Credits: Ken Armstrong/Sun Media
EDMONTON -- Alberta’s highest court has ruled that a comatose and severely injured child -- who was allegedly assaulted and starved by her parents -- be taken off life-support.
The three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal of Alberta also ordered that either Edmonton police or Edmonton Remand Centre staff arrange to take the parents -- who are in custody facing criminal charges in the case -- to hospital separately within 24 hours so they can have a final 20-minute visit with their 30-month-old daughter.
A Court of Queen’s Bench judge had ruled Friday that the girl be removed from life-support; however, lawyers for the parents had been granted a stay of proceedings pending an expedited appeal of the decision.
Immediately after the appeal court ruling Wednesday, the panel rejected a further stay application by the child’s parents pending a further appeal to the Supreme Court.
Justice Frans Slatter noted the child’s medical team had testified further invasive procedures would be required if the girl had to remain on a ventilator, and said that nothing could trump what is in the child’s best interests.
Slatter said the panel’s unanimous decision to reject the appeal of the lower court ruling to remove life-support was based on the initial judge having proper jurisdiction to hear the case and having not made any legal errors.
He also noted that, while the sanctity of life is sacred, “life is not without end,” and said the medical evidence in the case was that the child would never regain consciousness or have a meaningful existence.
Slatter also pointed out that the lower court ruling would have been the same regardless of the fact the parents are facing criminal charges and that they could possibly face more serious charges if the child is dead.
Outside court, the lawyer for the child’s mother said she would try to contact the Supreme Court on Thursday.
On Friday, Court of Queen’s Bench Justice June Ross issued the decision ordering the life-support be stopped.
“I conclude and direct that the recommendation of (the child’s) medical team that she be withdrawn from life-sustaining treatment and provided with palliative care is in (the child’s) best interests and that this course of treatment should be followed,” Ross said in her decision.
Medical experts testified earlier that the girl is paralyzed and in a “persistent vegetative state” and she is completely dependent on a mechanical ventilator and feeding tube for her survival. Doctors also said she is not likely to ever regain consciousness or recover from her “very severe” neurological problems.
The parents argued the judge should leave it up to them and they cannot consent to withdrawing life-support due to religious convictions and love for their daughter.
According to court documents, the condition of the child and her twin, who has since recovered, and the injuries they suffered contradict what the parents told officials.
When EMS first responded to the family’s south-side home on May 25, they found both girls had bruising on their heads and faces and the more severely injured child had suffered cardiac arrest and needed resuscitation.
The parents said the twins were hurt when they fell down some stairs they had been playing on with their older brother three days earlier. They also maintained the girls were able to crawl and walk with assistance at the time.
However, “medical evidence suggests that this could not be possible,” according to the court documents.
Pediatrician Dr. Lionel Dibden is quoted in the documents as saying the girls, due to being “profoundly malnourished,” would not have been independently mobile three days prior to their hospital admission.
The report says Dibden also stated that the bruises on the girls were “clearly due to multiple impacts” and he opined that they “cannot be explained by only one event.”
Regarding the alleged malnourishment, the report says the girls’ mom told officials they were born prematurely and her family has a history of twins and low weight.
However, Dibden is quoted saying no metabolic cause for their being underweight was detected and the nutritional condition of the girls was “clearly due to deprivation.”
The couple, who cannot be identified under a publication ban protecting the child, are charged with aggravated assault, criminal negligence causing bodily harm and failing to provide the necessaries of life.