The impending death of the baby named Charlie Gard made headlines Wednesday and Thursday as the world realized the full power of UK courts and the evil of which they are capable. Charlie was born a healthy, normal baby. When he developed a rare disease his parents raised the money (almost $2 million) to take their son to the U.S. to undergo an experimental treatment but were rejected by, of all authorities, the European Court of Human Rights. The court with the Great Ormond Street Hospital which declared that an experimental treatment would “continue to cause Charlie significant harm.” Charlie Gard’s parents, Chris Gard and Connie Yates, were told by the hospital that their boy would be taken off life support on Friday.
To add to the dismay over the decision, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Catholic Church’s Pontifical Academy for Life, released a statement essentially supporting the courts’ decisions, alleging the court upheld “the best interests of the patient.”
“We must do what advances the health of the patient, but we must also accept the limits of medicine,” he stated.
Thankfully, after a media uproar, the London hospital decided to give Mr. Gard and Ms. Yates more time with him.
Friday the Pope released a statement somewhat weakly counteracting Archbishop Paglia’s saying, “To defend human life, above all when it is wounded by illness, is a duty of love that God entrusts to all.” Many were up in arms against the Catholic church for failing to take a strong stance against the courts, but yesterday the Pope released a second statement saying he hopes Charlie Gard’s parents’ “desire to accompany and care for their own child to the end will be respected.”
The Pope’s new statement is better but doesn’t exactly take a hard stand. In an article, Crux magazine declared that the Catholic Church needs to be clear and prophetic, hearkening the issue back to a speech Pope Francis made when he explained “throwaway culture“:
I would therefore like us all to make the serious commitment to respect and care for creation, to pay attention to every person, to combat the culture of waste and of throwing out so as to foster a culture of solidarity and encounter.
Currently, every hour that passes is time ticking away from Charlie Gard’s life. Indeed, it still stands that Charlie Gard’s parents will still soon have to watch as he is allowed to die at the hands of a poor hospital staffer. We continue to pray, though, that the voices of the Pope and the Church as a whole result in a miracle—especially since multiple issues are at stake. The decision drops right into the middle of a debate about the morality of human euthanasia and assisted suicide. It also brings up the issue of parental rights.
Some countries choose to spend taxes to pay for health expenses. If we accept this we, by extension, accept that the government must sometimes decide when medical treatment is no longer a justifiable use of tax dollars. This family, however, raised their own money to bring him to the United States. As Crux magazine put it:
If the money being used for the treatment were coming from the state this would be another matter, but the money Charlie’s parents raised came from private sources. It is extremely odd that the Academy would not mention this in their statement. It is even more odd that they didn’t acknowledge that what has been decided by the UK authorities is, in fact, euthanasia. According to the Church’s teaching, euthanasia is an act or an omission which by intention causes death.
The UK court did not acknowledge the right to life in this ruling. The European Court of Human Rights did not stand for the right of parents to protect their child’s life, even though doing so would not harm anyone else.
It is ironic that the decision comes from the ECHR, of all authorities. What is a human right? First and foremost, it should include the right to life. In fact, it does. (See the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.) The Declaration does not include the right to a life without pain, a life without suffering, or even a life without overcoming obstacles that may stand in the way of that life. It should, however protect life while it exists. If it cannot do so it should protect the right of a parent to make every effort possible to keep their child alive.
Parental rights must be protected along with human rights as much as possible because it is very difficult to protect one without the other—history has shown us. We continue to pray for Charlie Gard, for the meaning and ramifications of this decision, and that the voice and influence of the Catholic Church will be used and heard.