July 7, 2017 (LifeSiteNews) – There are a number of people who want you to believe that the Charlie Gard case is very “complex,” with all manner of shades of grey. They want you to cool your righteous indignation. And in one sense, they're right. But we also can't let them distract us from the fact that Charlie's case is also, in a much more important way, extremely simple.
Over at Crux, Austen Ivereigh is eager to make the case that withdrawing Charlie's life support wouldn't amount to “euthanasia,” as some people have said. Instead, he suggests, it's a licit case of withdrawing “extraordinary” care from a dying patient, something even all pro-lifers admit can be moral. He might be right. I don't know. The reason I don't know is that the medical facts in Charlie's case are extremely complex. And the only way to make an informed decision about how to apply ethical standards about “extraordinary” vs. “ordinary” care is to have a firm grasp of those medical facts (not to mention the thorny bioethics).
The hospital and the doctors simply don't have a leg to stand on. That they may be motivated by compassion for Charlie doesn't make them right, or justify our losing sight of the grave stakes at play. Don't get distracted by irrelevancies. When it comes to who's right or who's wrong in the Charlie Gard case, it's extremely simple.
I don't have a firm grasp of those. Neither do you. I rather doubt whether Ivereigh does. Even many medical experts and bioethical experts are disagreeing about the facts of this case. For what it's worth, Cardinal Sgreccia (a man who, as former head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, knows a thing or two about bioethics), thinks it would amount to passive euthanasia to withdraw Charlie's life support, period. Which only goes to show you, on the medical side of things, this is a tough nut to crack.
Up to a point, I even agree with some of Ivereigh's concerns. Sometimes, even in the pro-life movement, in an admirable zeal to defend life, or simply out of lack of education, there can be a failure to make difficult distinctions regarding extraordinary vs. ordinary care, or to cry “euthanasia” when it could be a case of licitly withdrawing extraordinary care. And it's true, we really shouldn't jump to the conclusion that the doctors in this case are simply motivated by a crass utilitarian, pro-euthanasia, or eugenic mentality. Maybe they actually do care about Charlie. Fair enough.
However, by ignoring the question of parental rights, Ivereigh (and I would argue that the same goes for Simcha Fisher's otherwise informative, but ultimately unhelpful, piece at CatholicWeekly) ignores the elephant in the living room. Ivereigh thinks it could be moral (even good) to withdraw Charlie's life support. Fine. Maybe (maybe) if the parents had chosen to do that, it would be ok. But they didn't. The hospital did. And then they told the parents to buzz off. That's wrong. Plain and simple.
Parental rights are the lynch-pin in this case, and to bracket them out of the discussion is to fight with both hands tied behind our backs.
Consider: The hospital has had absolutely no problem spending untold thousands of dollars in taxpayer funding by fighting this all the way to the European Court of Human Rights, not to mention “prolonging” Charlie's suffering (which they have said they are very concerned about) by keeping him on life support long enough to fight this case as far as they have, when they could simply have released him months ago, and let the parents pursue their proposed course of action. If they had, this case could long ago have been resolved, either in Charlie's peaceful death (with a sense of resolution for his parents), or in an unlikely but welcome improvement of his condition.
It's very hard to see who loses by granting the parents their wish, which is why it's hard to see this case as centering on anything other than a struggle for power: i.e. who is the final arbiter in such cases: the state or the parents? While I suspect most of the doctors believe they're acting on Charlie's behalf, there is a very dangerous precedent at stake, and I believe our clear responsibility here is to stand with the parents, and not allow ourselves to be led down the tangential rabbit-hole of “figuring out” the medical facts: which are, quite clearly, complex. In that sense, Ivereigh's piece – and any piece that gets lost in the weeds of determining “extraordinary” vs. “ordinary” care, passive euthanasia vs. licit withdrawal of care – strike me as mere distractions.
I suppose one could try to argue that the experimental treatment could make Charlie's condition so much worse (a highly debatable claim) that the hospital has the obligation to forbid it; but given that the alternative the hospital is proposing is that he simply die, I'm not sure how that enters the equation. Indeed, any claim that the proposed treatment will be so “inhumane” or excessively painful to the point of justifying the extreme step of overruling the parents rings hollow, especially given that the hospital claims Charlie is unresponsive and extremely brain-damaged. There just doesn't seem to be an argument that we're talking about pursuing something so self-evidently and gravely contrary to Charlie's well-being that the state has any stance whatsoever to push the parents aside.
In the end, there is far more to be lost by allowing the precedent of giving the final say to doctors, bureaucrats and judges. Parents are the first and preeminent guardians of their children. Let us not forget that. The state should only be invoked, or exercise its power, in cases of absolute necessity (i.e. evident and serious abuse): the other way lies totalitarianism.
That may sound extreme, but if there's anything that the 20th century proves, it's that giving the state power that rightly belongs to families and individuals – under the misguided belief that “the experts” know better – never ends well. This is why the Catholic Church has always steadfastly defended the family and parental rights against intrusion from the state.
In this case, the parents (who are clearly loving, and have Charlie's welfare at heart) have the means to pay for Charlie's treatment. Even if the treatment doesn't benefit Charlie (though we pray it does), the mere attempt could benefit others with the same condition. No crucial resources will be diverted from other patients in the health system for the sake of Charlie's treatment. Any negative impact on Charlie's welfare would be negligible, at worst.
Conclusion: The hospital and the doctors simply don't have a leg to stand on. That they may be motivated by compassion for Charlie doesn't make them right, or justify our losing sight of the grave stakes at play. Don't get distracted by irrelevancies. When it comes to who's right or who's wrong in the Charlie Gard case, it's extremely simple.