Making Distinctions in the Charlie Gard Case

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As we await the next ruling from the judge in the case of Charlie Gard, the British infant whose parents are trying to keep him alive despite the best efforts of the hospital to let him die, R.R. Reno at First Things has a solid analysis of this and similar cases and the moral distinctions involved. It also explains why a case that takes place so far away would so concern us here in Massachusetts.

While most pro-lifers have come down on the side of Charlie’s parents’ wishes to take him to the US for an experimental treatment that could keep him alive, some have said that their efforts are misguided. And even those who support the parents may not fully understand the reason they should be supporting the parents.

Reno walks us through the Christian moral tradition on death and dying. 

The Christian moral tradition affirms the sanctity of life and recognizes the reality of death. We are not always and in all circumstances required to make heroic efforts to sustain the life of a terminally ill or mortally wounded person. We are asked to determine when further interventions to sustain life are futile. 

He then notes that nutrition and hydration represent ordinary care, not heroic. But an artificial ventilator could be considered extraordinary care. The measures keeping Charlie alive may also be considered extraordinary care, which is what the hospital arguing.

But here’s the important distinction: The question in this particular case isn’t really about whether Charlie is receiving extraordinary care and could be removed in order to let him die, (as opposed to causing him to die). The question is Who gets to decide?

The British Court’s essential argument is that the state has a duty to protect the best interests of the child—and in Charlie’s case, the child is best off dead. This argument is chilling, because it’s the basis for a regime of compulsory, state-sponsored euthanasia. Charlie’s case is extreme, and the withdrawal of life support feels different from giving terminally ill children lethal injections (or aborting genetically defective children in the womb). But the logic is the same. And it is ominous—especially given the increasing frequency of involuntary euthanasia in European countries such as the Netherlands and Belgium, and the widespread use of abortion as a form of euthanasia.

When we cede to the government (and government-managed institutions such as the healthcare system) the right to decide whose life is worth living and who should die, then all of us are at risk for any reason.

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