An Alberta Court of Appeal judge has allowed the parents of a two-year-old girl — allegedly starved and neglected from birth — to appeal a ruling the child be removed from life support machines.
The girl, who can't be identified, will be kept on life support until the appeal is heard, which could be as soon as next Wednesday or Thursday.
"It is a difficult situation and there is no ideal solution to it," said Justice Jean Cote.
Cote told the lawyers in the case to clear off their calendars to accommodate the hearing.
"If there's something else, you can tell them it is a life and death matter," he said.
Just hours earlier, Court of Queen's Bench Justice June Ross ruled the child be removed from life support.
The ruling was brief as the parents asked the reasons not be read out, but rather given to them later in private.
Parents hang heads
As the judge read her conclusion, both parents, sitting about three metres apart, hung their heads.
Neither the father nor the mother made eye contact with each other.
In her 15-page decision, Ross sifted through two days of testimony from the child's doctors and legal precedents.
"In considering this submission, I keep in mind that my role is to consider only the best interests of [the child], not those of her parents or any other person," she wrote.
"[The parents'] position as stated indicates that their decision will not and cannot change: they state that as devout Muslims and loving parents, they find it 'unthinkable to agree to limit or withdraw medical treatment' and they ask that the court honour [their] beliefs," Ross wrote.
"The court cannot do so where their beliefs come into a fundamental conflict with [the child's] best interests."
Ross said it is society's general understanding, "a life without awareness and totally supported by machines is not in accord with the best interests of any patient."
Child's interest to stop treatment
She went on to write that in that context "it is in [the child's] best interests that life-sustaining treatment be stopped is clear and uncontradicted."
The girl was taken to hospital on May 25, after paramedics found her in her parents' home in cardiac arrest and in a state of starvation.
The girl suffered a profound and irreversible brain injury and remains deeply comatose relying on a ventilator and feeding tube to survive.
Doctors don't believe the girl's condition will ever improve.
Two other children were also removed from the home, the girl's twin sister — also found starving, but now recovering — and an older boy, who was unharmed and now in foster care.
A lawyer for Alberta Children and Youth Services, which did not take a stance on whether the girl should be kept alive, asked Ross to make a ruling.
The agency said the choice should not be left up to the girl's parents, who are in custody on charges of aggravated assault, criminal negligence causing bodily harm and failing to provide the necessities of life.
The parents are barred from communicating with one another.
The parents are scheduled to have a bail hearing on Sept. 21.