The lead bishop for life issues in England and Wales, Bishop John Sherrington, has offered his prayers and urged international cooperation after an Italian hospital offered to continue caring for the comatose five-year-old Tafida Raqeeb, who UK doctors have said should be allowed to die.
Tafida Raqeeb has been in a coma since 9 February, after she suffered from a brain arteriovenous malformation (AVM), which resulted in cardiac and respiratory arrest as well as a traumatic brain injury. Doctors at the Royal London Hospital where Tafida is being treated say there is no chance she will recover from her coma.
But, two doctors from the Gaslini Children’s Hospital in Genoa who examined Tafida by video link have said they would be willing to care for her in Italy, and that she would not satisfy the conditions for brain death or be subject to withdrawal of life support there. The family believe she can recover if she is given more time.
On 16 July, Tafida’s mother Shelina Begum, a 39-year-old solicitor, and father Mohammed Raqeeb, 45 launched a legal petition with the High Court in London to allow her to leave the country.
Ms Begum has also launched an online petition urging the Royal London Hospital to release her daughter. In it she states that five months on from the brain injury, “Tafida is beginning to show some signs of progress, such as reacting to pain, movement of limbs and opening and closing of eyes”.
"The tragic illness and circumstances of little Tafida Raqeeb will touch everyone who hears of it. I hope it will also move them to pray, as it does me, Bishop Sherrington said in a statement on 18 July.
"I pray for this little girl that she and her parents are strengthened by the presence of God, by the mercy of God and by the support of all who know and love her,” he continued.
Describing the "difficult dilemmas” that have to be faced in the case, he said he hoped that “all due weight will be given to the wishes of her parents, while also respecting the clinical judgement of the doctors caring for her”.
He cautioned: “Those of us not in possession of all the relevant information might best be reserved in our judgement.”
Bishop Sherrington said that he hoped the doctors from the Gaslini Children’s Hospital in Genoa will be given time and opportunity “to come a well informed view” and to share their prognosis with doctors in London.
“Such international cooperation is essential good practice in the care of tragically difficult lives,” he said.
A spokesman for the Barts Health NHS Trust, which administers the Royal London Hospital, said: "This is a very sad case, for which we are in close contact with the family to offer support.
"Our expert clinicians caring for the child have determined, in discussion with additional independent medical experts elsewhere in London, that further invasive medical treatment is futile.
"As such we are engaging with the family to ensure we uphold the child's best interests, recommending withdrawal of life-sustaining treatment and instigating palliative care."
In the High Court on Tuesday, the family’s judicial review application argued that the Royal London was wrong to stop her being taken elsewhere.
The court was told that respected doctors at Gaslini Hospital in Genoa, Italy, were “willing and able to care for Tafida”. The hospital would also transport her safely by giving her full intensive care treatment en route. The family would pay privately.
There will be a second court hearing on Monday.
Tafida’s case follows similar campaigns by the parents of Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans, both terminally ill children in NHS care. In 2017, doctors sought to remove life support treatment from Charlie Gard, despite his parents’ wishes to transfer him to a hospital in New York City.
Less than a year later, the parents of Alfie Evans also objected to doctors saying their child should be allowed to die, saying they wished to move him to the Vatican’s Bambino Gesù hospital in Rome. Pope Francis offered his support to the couple. In both cases, the parents lost their appeals in the High Court, and the children had life-support treatment withdrawn.