Charlie Gard’s Death Sentence: The Consequences of Usurping Parental Rights
by John Stonestreet and G. Shane Morris
An incredibly complicated and heartbreaking life-and-death medical case has sparked an international debate: It’s the case of little Charlie Gard.
Charlie suffers from an extremely rare and deadly genetic disorder called Mitochondrial DNA Depletion Syndrome. Mitochondria “are structures within cells that convert the energy from food into a form that cells can use.” Because of his depletion of mitochondrial DNA, Charlie’s muscles and organs are failing. He’s unconscious and cannot breathe on his own. From all reports, he’s in the terminal stages of a disease for which there is no known cure.
Charlie’s parents, Connie Yates and Chris Gard, have raised a million and a half dollars in private donations to take him to America for an experimental treatment. They appear under no illusion that the treatment will work, but they do want to exhaust every possibility.
But doctors at Britain’s Great Ormond Street Hospital have decided that Charlie’s condition is hopeless, and that he should be left to die. Britain’s High Court agreed, and the European Court of Human rights refused to intervene after Charlie’s parents appealed. The doctors now have the legal go-ahead to take Charlie off life support.
Now world reaction has been decidedly on the side of Charlie’s parents. After some initial confusion within the Vatican, the Vatican’s pediatric hospital offered to take care of Charlie, as has at least one American hospital. Even President Trump tweeted over the weekend, “If we can help little #CharlieGard, … we would be delighted to do so.”
As I record this broadcast, these offers have all fallen on deaf ears. The hospital refuses to let Charlie travel or even die at home with his parents. They’ve kept him on life support to give Charlie and his parents just a little more time together.
Those are the facts as I understand them. But now here’s why this case is so important, both for the sake of Charlie and his family, and for our civilization.
First, the government should have no role in dictating when and where a baby should die, and whether his parents can seek additional treatment options. The decision by the British High Court is an appalling overreach, and it sets a very dangerous precedent. In worldview terms, the government is well beyond its sphere of sovereignty, gobbling up authority that rightfully belongs to the family and to the church.
Second Peter clarifies that the civil authorities are ordained by God to reward good and punish evil. Great Ormond Street Hospital and the British and international courts have determined it’s time for little Charlie to die, regardless of how many people around the world want to help him by paying for transportation and additional treatment. They won’t even allow him to die at home. They’ve effectively asserted ownership over this little boy and his life. This is unambiguously wrong.
And the facts don’t support the European Court of Human Rights’ claim that undergoing experimental treatment would expose Charlie to “continued pain, suffering and distress.” As one official at the hospital where he’s being cared for admitted, doctors “don’t know whether he suffers pain.”
And, we should note, the British government is in this position of superseded authority largely because of the breakdown of the family. Courts and officials there are accustomed to playing mom, dad, even sometimes God. And we’re not that far behind here in the United States.
But that doesn’t mean the government has the right to make the kinds of life-and-death decisions that Charlie’s parents and others are called to make, nor is it best equipped to navigate the unique challenges of such a difficult case. When it comes to this little life, by overstepping, hospital officials and judges have handed down a death sentence that isn’t theirs to render.
John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.