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On to the news.
The Tragedy of Charlie Gard Concludes
Today we have sad news: Charlie Gard's parents have determined that Charlie's health has deteriorated to the point that even experimental treatment will not have even a chance of success.
They have decided that Charlie will remain in Britain and have his life support removed.
We have already looked at the background of this case, so let's look at a few lessons we should learn:
First, Charlie's parents cite time as the biggest factor in this case. Rightfully so, since the experimental treatment to help Charlie already had a low chance of succeeding before the case went on and on. Charlie was diagnosed with this disease in September of last year. Charlie's parents started raising money for transportation and experimental treatment in January of this year, and the court didn't hear the case until April. The parents fought the decision—which said that the hospital had authority over Charlie's life—and the case was strung out until yesterday, when the parents decided that treatment was no longer a possibility and have agreed to let Charlie's life support be removed.
If Charlie had been allowed to travel to the U.S. back in January or February, the chance for his survival would have been higher. Even a slim chance is better than no chance at all.
Second, the question of who has authority over a child was at the center of this particular case. Charlie's parents contended that they had the authority to do everything in their power to save the life of their son. The doctors claimed that they had the right to prevent Charlie's parents from prolonging Charlie's suffering by subjecting him to experimental treatment. Melissa Moschella argues convincingly at Public Discourse that Charlie's parents have a unique authority over him:
For the British doctors, Charlie is one among hundreds of patients—obviously a very special patient due to the rarity of the case and the public attention it has received, but nonetheless still one among many. For the United Kingdom, Charlie is just one of the millions of children within its realm. But for Connie and Chris, Charlie is a beloved son, with whom they have a unique, permanent, and irreplaceable bond. Connie and Chris gave Charlie his life and his identity. They are the ones who brought Charlie into the world, the ones to whom he is most intimately connected, and the ones most deeply invested in Charlie’s well-being. They are, therefore, the ones most directly responsible for Charlie’s care, and the ones with primary authority to make decisions on Charlie’s behalf.
In a striking moment of moral clarity, the judge hearing the case said that Charlie's parents' decision to remove Charlie's life support was "the most painful of decisions, that only parents can make." If only he had thought it was only a decision parents could make when he previously ruled that the doctors could make that very same decision.
Third, we should remember this basic principle as we deal with any number of issues: We should seek to protect life when we can. Many societies seem to forget this in their rush to end the lives of anybody who asks, terminally ill or not. Others forget it when they fight for unrestricted access to abortion. Even more recently, a few states have attempted to force pregnancy care centers to speak against their desire to protect the lives of the unborn.
Choosing to end life support is morally distinct from intentionally ending a life, of course, but the former is no less tragic for the difference. Charlie's parents fought long and hard to save the life of their child and were frustrated at nearly every turn by a slow court system.
If our priorities as a society are flipped—that is, if we afford the government rights that properly reside with parents—then we ought to expect the consequences to be tragic.
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