Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) raised the issue of Alta Fixsler in a meeting with U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, pressing the British leader to “overrule the hospital” that has deemed it in the best interest of the two-year-old girl that she be removed from life support.
Johnson, in the U.S. this week to meet with President Joe Biden at the White House and speak at the U.N. General Assembly, also had a meeting at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday with approximately a dozen Senate leaders of both parties, as well as Karen Pierce, U.K. ambassador to the U.S. At that meeting, Schumer took the opportunity to bring up the Fixsler matter with the prime minister.
In a phone interview with Hamodia on Thursday, Schumer described his conversation with Johnson.
“I said to him that this is very, very important,” said Schumer. “I told him I am Jewish and about the concept in the Talmud that to save a life is above almost anything else. And I said to him that he has the power to do this.”
“The prime minister said, ‘It’s British law,’” Schumer related. “I said, ‘I know it is British law that the hospital governs, and the hospital made a decision — a wrong decision — that it’s in the best interest of the child to let the child pass away. But I said you are in charge of the hospital, because you’re the head of the National Health Service system, so you can overrule the hospital.”
Schumer said Johnson was “sort of surprised” that he had brought up the Fixsler issue.
“But he listened,” said Schumer, “and he said he’d look into it.”
Alta Fixsler suffered a severe brain injury at birth and is unable to breathe or eat on her own. The Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, the hospital system responsible for Alta’s care under the U.K. National Health Service, says that there is no potential for her condition ever to improve, there is no medical benefit to continuing her life support, she is suffering pain and it would be humane to remove her from life support.
As Orthodox Jews, the Fixsler family insists that Alta remain connected to the machines keeping her alive. The family has undertaken an extensive lobbying and outreach effort, with U.S. and Israeli governments interceding with the British government on Alta’s behalf, asking that the girl, whose mother is Israeli and father is Israeli-American, be allowed to leave to one of those countries for medical treatment. Jewish charitable organizations have arranged transport, and there would be no cost to the U.K. government.
But the British courts have repeatedly upheld the hospital’s decision to have Alta disconnected from the machines, and with legal options seemingly exhausted, a political lobbying effort is the family’s only hope.
Schumer has been among the most active U.S. officials advocating on the Fixslers’ behalf. He has previously helped obtain a visa for her to travel to America for medical treatment, though the U.K. has not allowed her to leave. He has also had several past conversations with Pierce on the Fixsler issue. Separately, 10 Republican senators sent a letter to Biden in June asking him to “advocate to Prime Minister Johnson on behalf of the Fixsler family.”
Schumer credited Rabbi Moshe Dovid Niederman of the UJO of Williamsburg, one of the leading activists on behalf of the Fixsler family, with “giving me the idea that the prime minister could overrule the hospital board, because he’s in charge of the hospital system.”
Rabbi Niederman told Hamodia on Thursday that he is “grateful that this issue is on Sen. Schumer’s front burner, and that he doesn’t miss an opportunity to try to save Alta’s life. While, as a leader of our country, he has many important issues, we appreciate that he took the time to discuss this matter with the prime minister.”
Rabbi Niederman is hopeful that Johnson will indeed intervene with the hospital. “In my years of experience in community advocacy, I’ve seen time and again that when you go to the top, things move at the bottom,” Rabbi Niederman said. “And in a case of pikuach nefesh [saving lives], we have to use every avenue possible.”
Readers are asked to daven for the refuah sheleimah of Alta bas Alta Chaya, besoch she’ar cholei Yisrael.