Father's plea as brain-damaged toddler to lose life support imminently
‘There is no reason to kill Alta, she does not need to die’: Father’s heartbreaking plea for desperately brain-damaged two-year-old girl whose parents’ staunch belief in the sanctity of life is being pitted against NHS doctors
- Alta was born severely brain-damaged and has never spent a day out of hospital
- Manchester Uni NHS Foundation won right to remove life-sustaining treatment
- Move would go against religion of her parents, who are both devout Hasidic Jews
Alta Fixsler is living on borrowed time – and this week it’s set to run out in a heartbreaking case that sees her parents pitted against her doctors in a fight over the sanctity of life.
The two-year-old was born severely brain-damaged and has never spent a night out of hospital.
Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust has won the right to withdraw life-sustaining treatment and may turn off her ventilator as early as tomorrow.
This is against the wishes of her parents, devout Hasidic Jews, who do not believe their daughter should be allowed to die.
Speaking exclusively to The Mail on Sunday, Mr Fixsler said: ‘There is no reason to kill Alta, she does not need to die because she is not like me and not like you, she should be allowed to live her life like any other child.
‘We know she is different but we love her no less than we love our son, who is a happy, healthy little boy.
‘They are both our children, gifts from God, and equal in our eyes. No hospital and no doctor should be able to take the decision of what is in the best interests of a child. This is something for the father and the mother to judge, yet this is being denied to us.’
The tragic case goes to the heart of the moral, spiritual and legal debate in Britain about ethics of life and death.
Alta Fixsler (pictured), aged two, was born severely brain-damaged and has never spent a night out of hospital
It is further complicated by the fact the couple and their daughter are Israeli citizens and have a private air ambulance waiting to fly Alta to Jerusalem where she has been promised ongoing life support.
The Israeli government has made a formal request for her to be allowed to go, and the country’s Chief Rabbi and its Attorney General have declared the ending of Alta’s life illegal under Jewish law.
Reuven Rivlin, President of Israel until last month, has personally appealed to Prince Charles to intervene.
A similar offer of care has been made by a hospital in the US – Mr Fixsler grew up in New York, and has joint Israeli-US citizenship.
In the US he has the support of political heavyweights including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Ted Cruz.
‘We feel as if the National Health Service is holding our daughter hostage,’ said Mr Fixsler. ‘It seems to us the NHS wants to kill her.
‘I think people in the UK need to know more about this issue, that loving parents don’t have rights over their own child.
‘I will not agree to anything to help the NHS make Alta’s life shorter. We asked God for a healthy baby, Alta is who He chose to give us. We will never desert her.’
The family is realistic about Alta’s condition – they are not hoping for a miracle recovery or placing their faith in an outlandish treatment.
They know their daughter will never gain minimal consciousness and cannot move, see, swallow or hear.
They also accept her life expectancy is possibly as little as six months. But it was against their wishes that, last December, the trust applied to the High Court for the right to withdraw life support.
The Trust says the little girl is capable of feeling consistent pain and allowing her to die is in her best interests.
It sought external expert opinion from paediatricians at Great Ormond Street Hospital and Sheffield Teaching Hospital, both of whom supported Alta’s doctors.
The court hearing took place in May this year and the withdrawal was authorised on May 28. Mr and Mrs Fixsler were refused permission to Appeal and the European Court of Human Rights supported the original ruling.
Mr Justice MacDonald, who heard the case, concluded: ‘We have no means of knowing the exact nature of her experience of pain given the catastrophic nature of her brain damage.
‘There is no reason to consider that such pain would be experienced by Alta in any way other than as a negative experience. Indeed, the experience of pain without the ability to understand it, is arguably an even worse predicament than pain accompanied by understanding.’
In considering her family’s faith, the judge pointed out that Alta’s case was governed by secular law.
‘The presumption in favour of taking all steps to preserve life, whilst strong, is also rebuttable,’ he wrote.
‘That this is so, recognises that life cannot be, and should not be, preserved at all costs.’
The Trust argued that granting permission for Alta to fly to Israel or America would cause her greater pain than her current care, something with which her parents vehemently disagree.
Alta’s mother and father have been together since 2010 when Mr Fixler was 19 and Mrs Fixsler, a teacher, was 22. After marrying in Jerusalem, they moved to Manchester with their son, now eight.
The couple tried for a second child in the UK but after a complicated pregnancy, Mrs Fixsler went into premature labour at 34 weeks.
Alta was deprived of oxygen during birth and only just survived with massive loss of brain structure and a damaged brain stem.
Her parents both visit her in hospital regularly. From the outset, they have wanted to bring their daughter home, and have opened their apartment in Salford for inspection by social services and the trust.
They were prepared to buy their own ventilator in the hope they could offer their daughter a better quality of life.
Now that modest dream seems more distant than ever. When ventilation is withdrawn, their daughter will die although it could take hours, days or weeks.
Despite knowing their daughter’s condition, when she was born they picked the name Alta, which means ‘old’ in Yiddish, hoping that she would live a longer life than doctors predicted. ‘She is a challenge,’ says Mr Fixsler.
‘But we have always believed as her parents we can rise to it.’
A spokesman for Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust has said: ‘We recognise that this is an incredibly difficult and distressing time for Alta’s family, and we will continue to support them.
‘Due to patient confidentiality, it would be inappropriate to comment further.’
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