Vatican City, Nov 11, 2023 / 11:06 am (CNA).
Pope Francis is praying for Indi Gregory and her family as the critically ill British infant’s life support is set to be removed this weekend by a U.K. court order.
The pope “embraces the family of little Indi Gregory, her father and mother, prays for them and for her, and turns his thoughts to all the children around the world in these same hours who are living in pain or risking their lives because of disease and war,” a Vatican statement said Nov. 11.
Indi Gregory, born in February and baptized in September, suffers from a rare degenerative mitochondrial disease and has been receiving life-sustaining treatment on a ventilator at the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham, England.
After England’s high court ruled that it was in the child’s “best interests” to be taken off life support against her parents’ wishes, the Italian government granted the critically ill child Italian citizenship on Nov. 6 and agreed to cover the cost of her medical treatment at the Vatican’s pediatric hospital.
Gregory’s parents repeatedly appealed in U.K. courts to be able to take her to Rome for treatment but lost their legal battle, with the second-highest court in the U.K. ruling on Nov. 10 that the baby’s life support be removed “immediately,” an order that is expected to be carried out sometime over the weekend.
Lord Justice Peter Jackson, Lady Justice Eleanor King, and Lord Justice Andrew Moylan made the ruling after a remote hearing in the Court of Appeal. The ruling called the attempted Italian intervention in Gregory’s case “wholly misconceived” and “not in the spirit” of the 1996 Hague Convention, to which both the U.K. and Italy are parties.
The decision came after Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni wrote to the U.K.’s lord chancellor and secretary of state for justice on Nov. 10 in an appeal to bring Gregory to Rome for treatment.
The general manager of the Vatican’s Bambino Gesù pediatric hospital, Dr. Antonio Perno, had also made an urgent application to the U.K. high court the day prior calling for the judge to cede jurisdiction of the case to him.
The Bambino Gesù, which is run by the Vatican, has offered to treat other terminally ill British infants in the past, such as Alfie Evans in 2018 and Charlie Gard in 2017, both of whom were ultimately denied the chance to travel to Italy by U.K. courts and died days after being removed from life support.
Indi Gregory’s treatment at Bambino Gesù would have been done at no cost to U.K. taxpayers.
Catholic bishops in England have commented on the case, with Auxiliary Bishop John Sherrington of Westminster and Bishop Patrick McKinney of Nottingham speaking out in a statement this week noting the Church’s teaching on end-of-life care.
“The tragic situation of baby Indi Gregory is truly heartbreaking, most especially for her devoted parents Claire and Dean, her siblings, wider family, and friends. Those responsible for her medical care at the Queen’s Medical Centre, Nottingham, believe they have done all they can to help her,” the bishops wrote.
“However, as people of hope, we recognize that her parents want to pursue every possible chance of extending her life, even when they know this carries no guarantee of success and would require transfer to the Bambino Gesù hospital in Rome, Italy. In this regard, both parties are seeking to act in Indi’s best interests. Parental love will lead to a desire to take every possible step, and we support this.”
In cases when medical treatment becomes disproportionate to any possible benefit, proper palliative care for a sick person must be maintained, the bishops noted.
“The suspension of disproportionate therapies cannot justify the suspension of basic care, which includes treatments that are required to maintain essential physiological functions as long as the body can benefit from them (such as hydration, nutrition, proportionate respiratory support, thermoregulation, and pain management),” they said. “Alongside spiritual care offered for the one who will soon meet God, the Church views these treatments as necessary to accompany these little patients to a dignified natural death.”
“Prolonged terminal illness is, sadly, part of the human condition,” the bishops acknowledged.
“We should never act with the deliberate intention to end a human life, including the removal of basic care so that death might be achieved. We do, however, sometimes have to recognize the limitations of what can be done, while always acting humanely in the service of the sick person until the time of natural death occurs. We hope and pray that, in the wake of this decision, the family are gradually able to find some peace over the coming days and weeks. Our prayers are with baby Indi and her parents and family, as well as with those caring for her.”