Defenders of Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) in London, which has prevented the parents of ailing 11-month-old Charlie Gard from taking their son to America for treatment, keep claiming the issues surrounding the Gard case are “complicated.” They keep claiming that but then they never address those issues really. The best I’ve seen are a couple contempt-dripping dispatches from The Guardian that pit classes against each other: they like experts, they despise money-grubbing pro-lifers, ergo GOSH is in the right.
More often than that, those who support pulling Charlie’s plug accuse conservative media of simplifying the case without ever bothering to refute what they’re saying. Irreducible complexity is employed as a smokescreen to deny the morally obvious, which is that Charlie Gard must be given a chance to live.
There are three top-shelf issues at stake here: custody, life, and expertise. On the subject of the first, parents should be allowed custody of their children unless they’re behaving in a way that’s manifestly abusive or destructive. On the subject of the second, nothing less than the bedrock of Western civilization dictates that our preference ought to be for life over death, especially in the case of children. On the subject of the third, experts tend to know more about their chosen fields than do laypeople, and their counsel should hold weight, even if it doesn’t have binding authority.
Saving Charlie Gard checks all those boxes. His parents aren’t trying to abuse him; they’re trying to save him. They want him to live rather than die. And they’re not seeking out a witch doctor with a cauldron of leeches; the physician offering them treatment is Dr. Michio Hirano, a professor of neurology and the chief of the Division of Neuromuscular Disorders at Columbia University, whose informed opinion is that there was up to a 56 percent chance Charlie might have been saved.
Hirano quickly came under attack by the GOSH staff, which pointed out that he had a financial stake in some of his treatments. That might be true but Hirano has catapulted himself into the spotlight: if his publicized treatment fails Charlie, it would be devastating to his bottom line, would it not? That he sought to save Charlie only for financial interest defies logic. Hirano was then defended by a man named by Art Estopinan who says the experimental treatment saved the life of his son who has a condition similar to Charlie’s, and has saved others, too.
Charlie Gard will never get that chance, not now. His parents on Monday withdrew their application to bring him to the United States. “The American and Italian team were still willing to treat Charlie after seeing his recent MRI and EEG perform last week,” they said in a statement, “but there is one simple reason why treatment cannot now go ahead and that is time. A whole lot of time has been wasted.” They note that his brain scans and electroencephalograms back in January “were those of a relatively normal child of his age.” It’s only in the intervening months, during which Charlie was imprisoned in GOSH, that their son’s condition diminished past the point of no return.
I’m sorry, have I used offensive language? According to Mr. Justice Francis, who presided over the Gard family’s case, the idea that Charlie has been a “prisoner” at GOSH is nothing short of “absurd.” Certainly he wasn’t legally a prisoner, but what else do you call it when an institution commands that a child not be allowed to leave its building despite the frantic exhortations of his parents? Saying Charlie was imprisoned falls well within descriptive license, yet Mr. Francis harrumphs on. “The watching world,” he deplores, “feels entitled to express opinions, whether or not they are evidence-based.” Welcome to our brave tomorrow, where humanity’s instinctive and reasonable desire for a doctor to try to save a baby is dismissed as evidentially unsound.
So Charlie will perish inside GOSH. Those who wanted to see him treated don’t understand the vicissitudes of the case, you see. Also: the real problem here is colorful rhetoric. Good show, everyone, good show.