Saving a Jewish Life, Vs. British Protocol

The heartrending plight of Alta Fixsler and her parents has reached a turning point.

The facts of the case are not in dispute. Alta is a 2-year-old Jewish girl in the U.K., currently on life support. She was born prematurely and suffered a severe hypoxic ischaemic brain injury during her birth. Medical opinion claims that she has no conscious awareness.

As such, a British court has ruled that the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital may remove her life support, as requested, believing it to have no further medical benefit.

The family, who are Torah Jews, have implored the authorities to allow their child to live. If the British medical system cannot or will not continue to sustain her life, then they want to take her abroad for further care.

The British authorities have been showered with options. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin wrote a letter to Prince Charles asking for his help in securing permission to allow Alta to be brought to Israel. Failing that, it was suggested that an Israeli medical team come to the U.K. to treat her. The British courts said no.

However, determined efforts to save Alta’s life on the part of the family and the Jewish community have not ceased. And last Friday, at the behest of Senator Chuck Schumer and 10 Republican senators, the Biden administration granted the child a visa, which would enable her to be brought to the U.S. for continued medical care at no cost to the British government.

As Sen. Schumer said on Friday, “All the Fixslers want is to follow their faith and get their little girl the best care in the process. The images of little Alta make your heart melt, and to know just how much her parents love her inspires us to do all we can to ensure her best chance.”

In addition, as the senators wrote, “We are profoundly troubled that the child of an American citizen [Mr. Fixsler] is being treated in this way, in a country with which we have a deep alliance and special relationship.”

The doctors and the court claim to know what is best for the child. The court previously heard that Alta was unable to experience pleasure, but could experience pain and distress and that the trust’s lawyers said there was “no prospect of her ever getting better,” the BBC reported.

According to a summary of the case in the U.K.’s Family Law Week, “The starting point is to consider the matter from the assumed point of view of Alta. Given the circumstances of her brain injury the court could not accept that she would share the values of her parents. Her point of view is more likely than not to be that continued life sustaining treatment would not be acceptable to her.”

Justice MacDonald wrote that “the parents cannot be criticized for having reached a different decision informed by the religious laws that govern their way of life, but applying the secular legal principles that I must … I cannot agree with their assessment and am required to act accordingly.”

In other words, his assessment is that Alta would share the secular outlook of the doctors and judges rather than the faith of her parents. It is a supposition for which there is no basis. They cannot communicate with Alta and ask her opinion. They are merely projecting their scale of values onto her; namely, that the value of life is a cost-benefit calculation, how much pain versus how much pleasure.

The Jewish view is that life cannot be evaluated this way. The family seeks instead to act according to halachah, which forbids the taking of life in such conditions.

Where there is such a clash of worldviews, the wishes of the family, who have their daughter’s welfare at heart more than anyone else, should be overriding.

As Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel, said on Friday, “The United States government has made a bold statement today: A statement that values life, that values parental autonomy over governmental paternalism, and a statement that recognizes a sincerely held religious belief. We sincerely hope that the U.K. government will respond in kind.”

As we said above, the facts of the case are not in dispute. What is in dispute is the value of human life. The British authorities cannot maintain that they their valuation is more correct than that of sacred Jewish tradition.

Furthermore, transferring the patient to the U.S. would relieve Britain of responsibility in the matter. It is hard to conceive that they would insist on taking an action that would definitely terminate a life, rather than allow other, equally competent medical professionals, to sustain that life.

The simple plea of her father should be honored “We want to do the best for her … Let me take my daughter,” he said.

The Jewish communal activists, Senator Schumer, the Republican senators and the Biden administration deserve our appreciation for their willingness to help in saving Alta’s life.

Arrangements have already been made to transfer her to a medical facility in the U.S. All that is left is for the British government to relent and let her go.