Five-year-old girl on life support would oppose its removal, family say

A five-year-old girl at the centre of a legal dispute over whether her life support should be withdrawn would have wanted to live whatever her condition because of her Islamic beliefs at an early age, her mother has told a court.

Tafida Raqeeb, from Newham, east London, is on ventilation at the Royal London hospital, having sustained a brain injury in February. Doctors say she has no awareness nor any prospect of recovery.

But on Thursday when asked what Tafida herself would say to the judge deciding her fate, the five-year-old’s mother, Shelina Begum, responded with an emotional plea at the high court in central London.

“What have I actually done wrong that this is happening to me?” said the 39-year-old, purporting to speak for her daughter. “Why am I not being given a chance? There are many other children in my situation being given a chance … My life, does it mean anything to anyone? My Islamic values don’t mean anything to anyone?”

Begum, an immigration lawyer, said that despite her daughter’s tender age and lack of understanding of end of life she was a practising Muslim, who prayed and fasted two hours a day during Ramadan and believed in the sanctity of life.

Despite what the doctors say, Begum told the court she had seen signs of awareness in her daughter, including Tafida waking up to her voice.

The court was shown two videos of the girl in hospital, moving her hand as her nanny encouraged her. Begum added that just that morning, while visiting her daughter before court, she had seen her moving her head forward.

“The treating doctors, they see her 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the afternoon,” said Begum. “I am the one who is there the whole day and I see these improvements every day.”

The court heard that Tafida, who was born with tangled blood vessels in her brain, could live for 10 to 20 years on ventilation.

Katie Gollop QC, acting for Barts NHS trust, asked Begum how she would feel if in the future Tafida developed further conditions predicted by doctors, including spasticity, spinal curvature, dislocation of the hips, double incontinence and probably epilepsy.

Begum said she did not foresee such problems, claiming that doctors have continually been wrong about her daughter’s prognosis.

She added: “With time and rehabilitation, we are hoping some of her functions will return. But even if it doesn’t return, I will still cherish her life the way it is.”

Asked whether her stance would change if Tafida, who is believed to be not currently experiencing pain, were to do so in future, Begum said she would have to consult religious scholars.

She and her husband, Mohammed Raqeeb, 45, have applied to fly their daughter to Italy for treatment, in the belief there is a greater willingness than in the UK to provide life support for seriously ill patients in the absence of brainstem death.

But Begum said that even if the judge, Alistair MacDonald QC, rules that life support cannot be withdrawn in the UK, the family still wants to take her to Italy because of discontent at the level of care she has received to date and a breakdown of trust with the hospital.

She said: “Tafida is not dying. All she needs is time and that’s all Tafida is asking for.”

In submissions on Thursday, Gollop said Tafida’s future on ventilation would entail seizures and “material disintegration”, warning that the family’s religious beliefs precluding removal of life support in any situation is “a matter that gives Tafida no freedom of choice”.

The case continues.

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