You’ve probably never heard of Charlie Gard.
He’s a terminally ill 10-month-old baby who has now been sentenced to death by the European Court on Human Rights – an Orwellian organization if ever there has been one – which determined that while his parents wanted to take him to the United States for a long-shot potentially life-saving treatment, they could not. Instead, the Court ruled, the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children would withdraw all life support, killing Charlie. What was the Court’s justification? Charlie had to “die with dignity.”
Charlie suffers from a mitochondrial disease that destroys the muscles and the brain. There was no available treatment in the United Kingdom, and so Charlie’s parents, Chris Gard and Connie Yates, raised $1.6 million to fly him to the United States for an experimental treatment. But the hospital argued that the treatment wouldn’t help Charlie, and would prolong his suffering, and that they knew better than the parents who had to suffer through his illness and care for him every single day. Thus, the hospital argued that it would be in Charlie’s best interest to die.
UK courts agreed. The Gards appealed to the EU. And now the court has ruled against them, with the ECHR stating, “Charlie would suffer significant harm if his present suffering was prolonged without any realistic prospect of improvement, and the experimental therapy would be of no effective benefit.”
The hospital issued its own perverse statement:
Our thoughts are with Charlie’s parents on receipt of this news that we know will be very distressing for them. Today’s decision by the European Court of Human Rights marks the end of what has been a very difficult process and our priority is to provide every possible support to Charlie’s parents as we prepare for the next steps.
Despite the hospital’s statement that it would not immediately change his standard of care, his parents now report that the hospital will withdraw his life support on Friday. His parents announced:
We begged them to give us the weekend. Friends and family wanted to come and see Charlie for the last time. But now there isn’t even time for that. Doctors said they would not rush to turn off his ventilator but we are being rushed. Not only are we not allowed to take our son to an expert hospital to save his life, we also can’t choose how or when our son dies.
There are several levels to the perversity here.
First, for all the talk of the evils of the American system of healthcare, at least we promote freedom of choice – and give as many options to people for their care as they can afford. As the doctor who offered experimental treatment stated in court, if Charlie had become ill at “any institution in the US,” they would immediately begin the treatment. But in the UK, a socialized medicine country where individual needs come secondary to the preservation of the “system,” there is less concern with parental rights. In the United States, we are so interested in the freedom to obtain care that we insist on releasing a legally brain-dead girl to her mother, so long as her mother wishes to keep her hooked up to a ventilator; in the UK, they are insistent on withdrawing the opportunity for life-saving care because it’s better to kill the child than keep it alive. While this case became a court proceeding, every single day the NHS makes decisions about how to ration care. Bernie Sanders tweets about how nobody should be denied care because they can’t afford it – but that’s what happens all the time under socialized medicine – and you don’t even have the capacity to raise the money to fund the care yourself.
Second, a government-run system breeds a shift in control. In the United States, the case of Charlie Gard is a major scandal; in the EU, it’s apparently no big deal. That’s because we in the United States like to think that we control our lives and that as parents, our priorities matter more than those of doctors who do not raise our children. But once you give up control over life and death decisions to an impersonal government, it’s nearly impossible to take back that control. This case could have been easy: the hospital could have released the child. The hospital didn’t do so because it believed that it had the final say. And why shouldn’t it? It always has the final say.
Third, allowing the government to control the value of life means devaluing life. It has been a fundamental hallmark of Western civilization that life ought to be preserved, in spite of pain, in spite of suffering – that death is no solution to suffering. But that notion has been stripped away in favor of the secularist standard of “healthy living” – and so in Europe, euthanasia is now available to people who are not terminal, but merely suffer from depression or anorexia. Better to “die with dignity” than live with pain, in the new math. That’s a far cry from the original Hippocratic Oath which overtly stated, “Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course,” or even the Tufts Medical School version, which stated, “Above all, I must not play at God.”
Those who value life want to keep choices about their life in their own hands, rather than turning such control over to an impersonal government agency that guarantees you coverage that it chooses for you. Charlie Gard’s story isn’t merely a travesty of justice and an insult to decency. It’s a warning for people who think that bureaucracies are as interested in preserving your health care priorities as you are.