Religious fundamentalist lawyers ‘preyed on’ Archie Battersbee’s family
Christian Legal Centre and Christian Concern accused of using tragic case to whitewash their own anti-rights work
A fundamentalist Christian Right organisation “preyed on” the family of tragic Archie Battersbee to whitewash its reputation for opposing equal rights and abortion while providing advice that was not fit for purpose, legal and medical experts have claimed.
Archie died on Saturday when his life support was switched off, following a weeks-long battle between his family and medics who believed he was very likely brain-dead and had no prospect of recovery.
The lawyers representing the Battersbee family came from the Christian Legal Centre, the legal arm of evangelical campaign group Christian Concern. The Christian Legal Centre says it works with clients “taking a stand for Jesus”; its recent cases include a magistrate who opposed gay couples adopting children and a couple who took legal action when their child was “confused” about another child wearing a dress.
“The concerning thing is that the advice that the families may be given may not be accurate,” Dominic Wilkinson, professor of medical ethics at the University of Oxford, told openDemocracy. “I am not sure that the Christian Legal Centre will have given [Archie’s parents] a fair assessment of their chances.”
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Neena Modi, professor of neonatal medicine at Imperial College London, told openDemocracy that the Christian Legal Centre and Christian Concern “prey upon the most vulnerable”. The organisations have been approached for comment.
“These third parties coming in are behaving appallingly, reprehensibly, unethically, and very damagingly,” she said. “They add to the grief and distress of families because they try and break down the trust that should exist between the medical team and the family – and which usually does exist.”
Representation in court for Archie’s family included Pavel Stroilov, a consultant for the Christian Legal Centre, and Bruno Quitavalle, the former leader of the anti-abortion group ProLife Alliance. A judge in the case of Alfie Evans, a toddler whose life support was removed after this was deemed to be in his best interests, described Stroilov as a “fanatical and deluded young man” whose “malign hand” was “inconsistent with the real interests of the parents’ case”.
In one instance, “false advice” provided by Stroilov to Alfie’s father Tom Evans said it would be lawful to remove Alfie from hospital. This “led to a confrontation” involving Evans, and police were called.
Legal writer the Secret Barrister criticised Christian Legal Centre and other fundamentalist groups and media outlets in their 2020 book ‘Fake Law’, accusing them of “casting a fog over the facts and drilling into our deepest and most primal fears” while “pushing their own agendas”.
Stroilov wrote a lengthy reply for the Christian Legal Centre arguing that the Secret Barrister’s comments were “an elitist rant” by “a left-wing pamphleteer writing for a left-wing audience”, and pointing to what he claimed were inaccuracies in the Secret Barrister’s summary of the cases of Alfie Evans and Charlie Gard.
Commentators believe the CLC may also have been responsible for giving Archie Battersbee’s family false hope.
The High Court was told that the family’s MP had written to the Royal London Hospital on behalf of Archie’s parents on 3 August, suggesting treatment abroad – despite there being “no detail as to what is being actually sought and where”. A written statement from a consultant paediatric neurologist said they were unaware of any treatment that could provide recovery to Archie’s condition.
“It’s just awful that these false hopes are planted in families’ minds,” Modi told openDemocracy. “There should be better explanation of what irreversible brain injury means. Clearly, this MP has not got that kind of knowledge, and they should have.”
As residents of Southend-on-Sea, the family’s MP is James Duddridge. openDemocracy has asked Duddridge to confirm if he wrote the letter.
Southend West MP Anna Firth, meanwhile, urged Twitter followers to join her in donating to a GoFundMe page, tweeting: “The whole House is behind Archie and his family.” The fundraiser was set up by Southend resident Claire Howes, but administration was taken over by Archie’s sister-in-law who would withdraw funds for various expenses including legal fees. Nothing on the page ruled out any funds reaching Christian Concern or the Christian Legal Centre.
Firth told openDemocracy of the Christian Legal Centre: “I know nothing about this organisation.”
These third parties add to the grief and distress of families. They try and break down the trust between medics and the family
Criminal law barrister Michael Scott warned that cases like Archie’s are used by the Christian Legal Centre to whitewash their ideological and fundamentalist agenda.
Scott told openDemocracy that, in his opinion: “It’s obvious they’ve got a huge agenda.” Scott believes the group are motivated “by political reasons”, adding: “I do very much get the feeling that they use these cases [of young children] for publicity and fundraising purposes.”
Modi added: “[The Christian Legal Centre] need to be called out because they are doing huge damage. It preys upon [families like Archie’s] when they are absolutely at their most vulnerable.”
She told openDemocracy that “the huge majority of these cases do not come anywhere near court” and that, while end of life decisions are “completely horrendous”, most parents feel they’ve been helped “to give their child a dignified, pain-free, calm, merciful end of life”.
“It would be good to hear the voice of families who have had trust in the medical profession and who have witnessed the withdrawal of life support of a very loved child and have been grateful, appreciative and understanding of the way in which it's been done,” she said. “To hear their side of the story.”
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