A British appellate court, saying ‘I deeply regret that I cannot do more to help,’ has denied the request by the parents of Alta Fixsler, a two-year-old Jewish child with severe brain damage, to appeal a lower court ruling that a hospital may remove the child from life support. The family will now appeal to the Supreme Court.
The lower court had ruled that the hospital may remove Alta from life support despite her parents’ argument that their religious rights as Jews allow them to do all that is necessary to keep Alta alive. The judge said that it could not be assumed that the young child, who is cognitively impaired, would necessarily accept the same religion as her parents.
The Jewish community worldwide mobilized a movement to get British officials to allow Alta, whose mother is Israeli and father is Israeli-American, to at least leave the U.K. and receive continued treatment in Israel or the U.S.
American activists including Rabbi Moshe Dovid Niederman of UJO, Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel of Agudath Israel, and Rabbi Moshe Margaretten of Tzedek Association have been heavily involved in the effort on behalf of the Fixsler family. Ten Republican U.S. senators wrote a letter to President Joe Biden last month, urging him to “advocate to Prime Minister Johnson on behalf of the Fixsler family.” Democratic Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer helped secure a visa request for Alta to travel to the United States.
Israeli government officials have also interceded on Alta’s behalf with British officials.
Medical transports have been arranged for Alta to Israel or the U.S. But the hospital in Manchester and medical officials have argued that it would be more humane to terminate her life support, saying Alta experiences pain and is not expected to live for more than another two years.
Following the adverse ruling by the lower court, the family had sought a request to appeal the ruling. Before the appeal itself would be heard, the appellate court must grant the parents the right to appeal. But on Friday, several weeks after the appellate hearing, the appellate court ruled it would not grant the family’s request to appeal.
The court ruled it is “entirely satisfied that [the lower-court judge] was entitled, and right, to conclude that it is in Alta’s best interests that the life-sustaining treatment be withdrawn. In reaching that conclusion, he took as his starting point the assumed point of view of the child; placed considerable weight on the strong presumption in favour of taking all steps to preserve life; nevertheless concluded that her experience of pain was “a very heavy counterweight to the presumption” particularly given the likelihood that it would increase; took into account the fact that continuing the treatment would impose an additional burden on her; took into account that because of her condition she would have minimal awareness of family and social relationships and as a result have minimal or no ability to take comfort or enjoyment from those who love her or were around her; carefully considered the religious views of principles held by her parents, but concluded that he was not satisfied in the circumstances of this case that those beliefs and principles outweighed the other compelling factors that pointed in the opposite direction.”
Noting the outpouring of support on Alta’s behalf, the court said it “has great respect for the views held by the President and Chief Rabbi of Israel and the other correspondents” and that “the issues arising in this case, as in similar cases in the English courts in recent years, have attracted extensive comment in this country and abroad.” However, “Such comment, from whatever source, cannot have an important influence on the outcome of proceedings, which must be determined on the evidence and in accordance with the principles of English law.”
The ruling concluded, “I know that Alta’s devoted parents will be profoundly distressed by the outcome of this appeal. Every parent and grandparent – indeed every person – from every community will have the deepest sympathy for them, and for Alta’s loving sibling. The strong support they draw from their faith and their community will be a source of consolation, but the emotional pain they are suffering is very hard to endure. I understand why they have pursued this appeal and deeply regret that I cannot do more to help them. As a judge, however, my duty is to apply the law, and in this case, the law requires me to dismiss the appeal.”
The full ruling is available here
At his press conference Sunday, Schumer decried the U.K.’s continued refusal to allow Alta to leave.
“My heart breaks for the Fixsler family. As you know, we’ve gotten them a U.S. visa so she can come here, but for some reason, the United Kingdom is still not letting her go. It’s hard to figure out why,” said the Senate Majority Leader. “We’re going to keep fighting till she’s allowed to come. Her life is at stake, and she’s a beautiful two-year-old little girl. I repeat: I ask she be allowed to safely leave the country with her parents, and come to the U.S., where there are hospitals willing to give her the kind of help she needs to live a happy, productive life.”
The family will now bring the case before the Supreme Court. A stay order has been issued until July 14.
Readers are asked to daven for Alta bas Chaya, besoch she’ar cholei Yisrael.
Vicki Belovski contributed to this report.
Updated Tuesday, July 13, 2021 at 6:41 pm .