09/19/2012 03:53 EDT | Updated 11/19/2012 05:12 EST

Comatose Child Life Support: Little Girl Should Be Removed From Machines, Alberta's Top Court Rules

EDMONTON - Alberta's top court has upheld a judge's ruling that a two-year-old child allegedly abused by her parents should be taken off life support.

Minutes after the ruling Wednesday, a lawyer representing the child's mother said she plans to make a last-ditch request to the Supreme Court to intervene.

But there may not be time.

Alberta Court of Appeal Justice Frans Slatter said the parents, who are in custody awaiting trial, were to be escorted within 24 hours to the Stollery Children's Hospital in Edmonton for one last visit with their daughter before she is taken off a ventilator.

He ordered the parents, who cannot be named, to have separate visits lasting no more than 20 minutes each. They have been denied bail and are not allowed to have contact with each other.

They are charged with aggravated assault, criminal negligence causing bodily harm and failing to provide the necessities of life — charges that could be upgraded if the girl dies.

After the Appeal Court's ruling, April Kellett and Lydia Bubel, lawyers representing the mother and father, jointly asked for a stay of the decision so they could try to challenge it before the Supreme Court.

But after a few minutes of discussion, the panel of three judges dismissed the request. Slatter said there was no legal issue that merited overriding the best interests of the child.

"There is nothing further the legal system can do," he said.

Outside court, Kellett said she was going to arrange for another lawyer to appear on her behalf before the high court Thursday morning in Ottawa.

Paramedics found the girl and her twin sister, both malnourished and suffering from injuries, in an Edmonton home May 25. The girl at the centre of the appeal was in cardiac arrest and slipped into a coma. Her sister is recovering. An older brother who was also found in the home but wasn't injured is now in foster care.

Doctors have testified the girl in a coma has an irreversible brain injury and will never regain consciousness. They said she has suffered repeated illness and needs an operation to allow her to keep using a breathing machine. The operation would be the first in a series of invasive procedures and doctors have agreed there's no way to know if she can feel pain.

Alberta Child and Family Services has custody of the girl but her parents are still guardians. A lawyer representing the child said her best interests should prevail.

Lawyers for the parents, who are Muslim, have cited their religious beliefs and argued they should have the final say on their daughter's medical care.

Last week, Court of Queen's Bench Justice June Ross cast doubt on the parents' motives for wanting to keep the girl alive and ruled she should be taken off the ventilator.

The Court of Appeal granted a stay while it pondered the case. But after two hours of arguments and discussion Wednesday, Slatter said the justices had reached a unanimous decision.

He said Ross had carefully considered the ethical and legal issues and made no errors in her ruling.

"The sanctity of human life is a core value of society," said Slatter. "But life is not without end."

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