The Times                                                               NOVEMBER 27 2000

Parents say hospital chose to let baby die


POLICE are investigating the death of a baby girl amid allegations that hospital staff withdrew her treatment against the wishes of her parents. 

The child’s mother is furious that a “Do Not Resuscitate” order was recorded in the medical notes of the five-month-old baby at King George Hospital in Goodmayes, Essex.

Sadhana Chaudhari, a science teacher, called in police after her only child, Sunaina, who had a rare chromosomal abnormality, died after the withdrawal of treatment. Her death has led to a bitter dispute with the hospital that has culminated in a decision by the  East London coroner, Dr Elizabeth Stearns, to hold an inquest. 

The hospital did not seek a judicial review before the withdrawal of treatment.

Sunaina was born on May 25 to Mrs Chaudhari and her husband Rajesh, 41, a yoga therapist. She died on October 26, her mother’s fortieth birthday, as both parents fought in court for their visiting rights to be restored after a breakdown in their relationship with doctors.

Sunaina’s ashes will be taken to India and scattered by her parents on the Ganges after her cremation in London. But the simple Hindu ceremony is unlikely to be the final chapter in the baby’s story.

While in the womb, Sunaina was found to be suffering from Edwards’ syndrome or Trisomy 18, a chromosome defect similar to Down’s syndrome, after a scan showed a diaphragmatic hernia  in which her stomach was squashing her left lung.

Mrs Chaudhari said: “The doctors advised termination and said  they would not operate if she was born. We were not having that. It is a life, as far as we were concerned.”

The child was transferred to Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children where, according to Mrs Chaudhari, doctors had to be  persuaded to operate to ease the baby’s breathing. On June 1 surgeons operated successfully and Sunaina was returned to King George’s a week later, and allowed home on August 1.

  Mrs Chaudhari said: “She was very happy. She gained weight from 5lb to 11b. She learnt to smile and, at four months, to sit up, and she learnt to coo.”

But Sunaina contracted a throat infection, which led to her readmission to King George’s on October 1. Her medication, Mrs Chaudhari alleges, was stopped the next day and support for her breathing withdrawn.

Fearing that the baby would die, Sunaina’s aunt, Neelu Berry, who is a pharmacist, joined Mrs Chaudhari in lodging a complaint on October 5, and requesting a transfer to another hospital. For a while treatment was resumed, but by then the relationship with doctors and nurses had deteriorated alarmingly.

Mrs Berry said: “They were planning for Sunaina’s death. Her mother was there 24 hours a day, cat-napping on a sofa bed,  providing all the care. If she had not been doing this the baby would have died.”

When she was three weeks old, a doctor allegedly took Mrs Chaudhari to a room where he drew a picture of a weighing scale on a piece of paper, listing the “negative and positive sides” to Sunaina’s case before commenting: “I can tell you, your baby does not want to live — she only ever wanted to be inside you.” That led to a further complaint by Mrs Chaudhari to Peter Murphy, the hospital chief executive.

Then, without warning, an emergency protection order was granted in her absence to the hospital at 11pm on October 20 by a magistrate at Redbridge Family Proceedings Court, restricting the parents from visiting more than four hours a day and banning Mrs Berry completely.

The hospital alleged that Mrs Chaudhari had interfered with Sunaina’s oxygen supply and barricaded herself in the room, preventing access by staff.

Mrs Chaudhari, who was escorted from the hospital by police at 1am, refutes the allegations, saying that she had been specifically trained by staff to regulate the oxygen supply and that the “barricade” was actually a chair or, on other occasions, an empty cardboard box, which made a noise on the floor when the door was opened to alert her as she slept.

She said: “In the few days left of her life she had a different cry as if to say ‘Don’t leave me’. It was as if it had been decided the baby should be left to die.”

On October 26 Mrs Chaudhari was in court applying to have the protection order lifted when David Robinson, clinical director of paediatrics, told her that Sunaina had died. Among the evidence in the case is a letter dated October 20 from two doctors at Great Ormond Street to Dr Robinson at King George’s, who had sought their opinion.

They said that they felt “Sunaina is in the process of dying” and added: “We also feel it may be appropriate to withdraw active  treatment and offer palliative care in the hope of improving the quality of life that is left for her to live. We suggest you seek judicial review and would support you strongly in this action.”

The letter was at the centre of Mrs Chaudhari’s objections when she was told that a post-mortem examination would be carried out at Great Ormond Street. “Because of the conflict of interest, based on their clinical assessment of Sunaina before she died, we thought it inappropriate for the post-mortem to take place there,” she said. Her request for an independent pathologist to represent the family during the post-mortem was ignored.

A spokesman for King George’s said that Sunaina’s “life expectancy was such that intensive care and resuscitation was not appropriate.

“Sunaina’s parents disputed the decision and the (hospital) Trust was in the process of obtaining a High Court order to confirm the decision for the withdrawal of treatment. This, in fact, was not obtained as, regrettably, despite our every effort, Sunaina died. The situation has been extremely difficult for all concerned.” 

Copyright 2000 Times Newspapers Ltd.


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