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The Case of Charlie Gard: Parental Rights Under Attack

July 17, 2017
Charlie with his parents, Connie and Chris. Photo: Featureworld

A symbolic case for the defense of the life in front of the modern ideology where natural law, positive law, and financial interest are used and abused.

The Tragic Case So Far


Charlie has an exceptionally rare genetic condition called encephalomyopathic mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome (MDDS). Although he appeared perfectly healthy when he was born, his health soon began to deteriorate. Charlie now has severe brain damage which is considered today irreversible. He cannot swallow on his own, open his eyes, hear, or move his arms or legs. He is unable to breathe unaided, which is why he requires a ventilator. Charlie's heart, liver, and kidneys are also affected and it is not clear if he feels pain. Charlie is baptized.

Charlie's parents, Connie Yates and Chris Gard, from Bedfont in west London, want Charlie to have an experimental treatment called nucleoside therapy. A hospital in the United States has agreed to offer Charlie the treatment, and Charlie's parents have raised funds to take him there.

But Charlie's doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) do not agree with this course of treatment for Charlie. They say they have explored various treatment options, including nucleoside drug therapy, and none would improve Charlie's quality of life. They say Charlie's life support should be switched off and he should be allowed to die.

The Legal Battle
 

GOSH applied to the High Court for judges to decide Charlie's future. The High Court agreed with the GOSH doctors. Charlie's parents then appealed against the decision, but the Court of Appeal (May 25) and Supreme Court (June 8) ruled that the original decision should stand and that it would be in Charlie's best interests to be allowed to die with dignity. On June 27, the judges in the European Court of Human Rights refuse to intervene. After the ruling, Yates and Gard claimed the hospital had denied permission for them to take Charlie back to their home to die.

Two international hospitals and their researchers have been in touch with GOSH with more information about nucleoside therapy—drugs designed to help treat MDDS.

Meanwhile, on July 3, the Pope and U.S. President Donald Trump offered to intervene and support Charlie's parents' plea.

Natural Law and Parental Rights
 

Because the family is a natural and divine institution, the parents are the first educators and decision makers for their children. It belongs to them to provide for and protect the life of which they are procreators.

Civil authority, whether national or international, has the right and duty to use its own organs and means to preserve, defend, and foster the goods of the family, even by positively helping them, especially in the support and education of children, according to what the common good requires (cf. Pope Pius XI, Divini Illius Magistri).

In the case of Charlie, GOSH and the English Courts ignored and unjustly deprived Charlie’s parents of their natural rights:

  • To decide about the care of their child
  • To have him dying at home
  • To apply extraordinary means to attempt to maintain his life.
Cardinal Elio Sgreccia, who came to the defense of the traditional position of the Church on this issue.

Ordinary Versus Extraordinary Means


If the fifth Commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," imposes the obligation to preserve life, it does not oblige using extraordinary means to artificially maintain a body which is too irreversibly damaged to sustain life by natural means. The goal of our life is not to preserve our earthly life at all cost but to attain God.

The whole difficulty consists in determining what are the extraordinary means for a particular case.

Pius XII affirmed clearly that the respirator for a dying patient can be considered an extraordinary means. Modern theologians and moralist, unfortunately, have been distorting the Church’s doctrine on this matter, leaving the faithful confused.

For more on these issues, see the work of Fr. Iscara, To Live and Let Die



Paglia from Pontifical Academy for Life
 

On June 29, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life published the following statement:
 

We must do what advances the health of the patient, but we must also accept the limits of medicine and, as stated in paragraph 65 of the Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, avoid aggressive medical procedures that are disproportionate to any expected results or excessively burdensome to the patient or the family.”

However, in Evangelium Vitae, John Paul II expressed the traditional teaching of the Church about the use of extraordinary means to preserve life. Unlike Paglia, John Paul II did not declare a positive obligation to avoid extraordinary treatment It is licit to avoid extraordinary means, “one can in conscience” refuse them, but one is not obliged to refuse them. Here are John Paul II’s words.
 

Euthanasia must be distinguished from the decision to forego so-called ‘aggressive medical treatment,’ in other words, medical procedures which no longer correspond to the real situation of the patient, either because they are by now disproportionate to any expected results or because they impose an excessive burden on the patient and his family. In such situations, when death is clearly imminent and inevitable, one can in conscience ‘refuse forms of treatment that would only secure a precarious and burdensome prolongation of life, so long as the normal care due to the sick person in similar cases is not interrupted.’”

Ideologies Behind the Case
 

Italian Cardinal Elio Sgreccia, former President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, came to the defense of the traditional position of the Church with strong words. He offered “10 Critical Points” for consideration in the Italian daily La Stampa, on Monday, July 3, 2017.

He reminds the faithful in particular that people who cannot be cured have the right to be taken care of. The right to dignity applies also to newborns, regardless of the state of their health. This particular dignity includes the right to care and attention. Feeding and hydration are not therapies; they cannot be withdrawn. Doctors and patients (in this case Charlie’s parents on his behalf) must be actively involved in the decision process and not have to “suffer passively the decision and choices of others.” Charlie needs an integral palliative approach, regardless of whether or not he is able to recover.

In relation to pain control, continuing to provide treatment is in Charlie’s best interests. Finally, Cardinal Sgreccia denounces conceptualizing the efficient management of health resources which generates a rampant disposable culture—a cultural paradigm that tends to recognize the non-dignity of certain human beings because of the medical afflictions with which they must exist with. The dark irony is that those many of those who would defend the right to euthanasia in the name of human autonomy deny autonomy in decision making for those who wish to use extraordinary means to preserve their lives or the lives of those trusted to their care.
 

In this very real and tragic case, Charlie's family needs our prayers. We cannot praise enough these courageous parents who stand for the parent’s rights and the good of their loved one. In the modern war against the family, this is an important battle. These parents, as natural procreators and God-given defenders of their child, resist the appropriation of the life in the name of positive law and modern ideology. They merit our admiration, support and prayers.