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The tragic case of Baby M has been in the Calgary court system in recent weeks, and is moving to its highest provincial court for adjudication. It was reported to have begun in May 2012 with paramedics finding the girl and her twin in an Edmonton home, badly malnourished and with Baby M in cardiac arrest. Their brother was also in home, although he was well and is now in foster care.
The children’s parents were charged with aggravated assault, criminal negligence causing bodily harm and failing to provide the necessities of life.
Medical experts testified the girl had “profound and irreversible brain injury,” and her doctors advised that all artificial life support should be withdrawn. In contrast, Baby M’s parents want to keep their child on life support, asserting that to do otherwise would go against their Muslim faith. However, notably the national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress apparently stated that while the religion forbids suicide, it allows refusal of treatment, particularly if it might prove burdensome to society or family members.
While in the normal course, it would be the parents as guardians who would have the right to make decisions about the care of Baby M, the charges against them (although not yet proven) have led to this decision being one the court is making.
In that regard, on Friday it was reported that the Honourable Justice June Ross ordered that Baby M should be removed from life support. In so doing, the judge focused on the child’s best interest, noting that there are “further medical challenges and further invasive treatments aimed only at continuing a life that holds no benefits for her.” Her Honour also addressed her concern over the conflict and potentially self-interested position of the parents, whose criminal charges could be elevated to murder if Baby M dies.
Justice Ross’ ruling has been stayed until an appeal can be heard, likely within the next few days. No doubt it is an extremely sensitive area and difficult decision for the courts to make.
While I am sure many of us have a strong visceral reaction to this case, from a legal standpoint I am interested to see how the appellate court addresses the religious arguments and beliefs of the parents, and whether it clarifies the law in Calgary on the authority of the parents to make decisions for their minor children when they themselves are facing criminal charges for crimes allegedly committed against them.