- The Washington Times - Monday, July 24, 2017

Nobody knows whether Charlie Gard would have survived or what his life would have been like had British doctors and judges let his parents seek treatment abroad for his rare genetic condition months ago.

But after Chris Gard and Connie Yates ended an eight-month-long legal fight to save their 11-month-old son on Monday, what is certain is that Charlie will die soon — and the parents are blaming the court fight.

“We will have to live with ‘what ifs,’ which will haunt us for the rest of our lives,” said Mr. Gard, fighting back tears outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

Charlie suffers from DNA depletion syndrome, a chronic illness that causes progressive muscle weakness and brain damage. He is unable to see or hear, or breathe without the assistance of a ventilator.

The infant’s doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London opined, and European courts agreed, that it is in Charlie’s best interests to “die with dignity” against the wishes of his parents.

The couple raised almost $2 million in private donations to bypass Britain’s single-payer National Health Service and pursue an experimental therapy, offered by Columbia University Medical Center neurologist Dr. Michio Hirano, in the U.S.

As a part of the High Court of Justice hearing to examine new evidence, Dr. Hirano was allowed to assess Charlie and determine the treatment’s likelihood of success. After he saw the results of an MRI scan last week, Dr. Hirano said Charlie’s condition had worsened and the time to attempt the treatment had passed.

“There is one simple reason why treatment cannot now go ahead,” Mr. Gard said. “And that is time. A whole lot of time has been wasted. We are now in July, and our poor boy has been left to just lie in hospital for months without any treatment whilst lengthy court battles have been fought.”

World leaders as dissimilar as Pope Francis and President Trump have weighed in on Charlie’s case, offering to help the Gard family in any way they could. The pope’s hospital, Bambino Gesu Children’s Hospital in Rome, offered to care for Charlie as long as he may live, and Congress granted Charlie U.S. citizenship to expedite his potential relocation.

In a statement Monday, the Vatican said Pope Francis is “praying for Charlie and his parents and feels especially close to them at this time of immense suffering.”

Charlie’s case has raised ethical questions about the rights of parents over their children, the dangers of socialized medical care, and the value and dignity of human life.

Jay Richards, a professor in the School of Business and Economics at The Catholic University of America, was perplexed that Charlie’s parents were not allowed to decide his fate when there was so much uncertainty about whether Charlie was suffering or whether the treatment would be effective.

In marginal cases, he said, parents should be free to choose.

“Those closest to a child are his parents, and unless they are shown to be incompetent, they should have far more say over these kinds of things,” Mr. Richards said. “Certainly more than a local magistrate and, in this case, a transnational court.”

Even High Court Justice Nicholas Francis, who handed down the initial April 11 ruling denying Charlie’s transfer, has routinely praised Mr. Gard and Ms. Yates as exemplary parents. But he did not see them as fit to decide Charlie’s fate.

“These parents should know that no parent could have done more for their child,” Justice Francis said in court on Monday. “They have, however, now accepted that Charlie’s life cannot be improved and that the only remaining course is for him to be given palliative care and to permit him to die with dignity.”

With the fight over whether to repeal the Affordable Care Act raging in America and Democrats’ increasing willingness to support a single-payer system like Britain’s, the connection between Charlie’s case and government control over medical care has not been lost on conservatives and pro-lifers.

The fight became a worldwide cause in part because of the rare situation of the government deciding that a person must not receive health care, despite the wishes of the family.

Twila Brase, president and co-founder of Citizens’ Council for Health and Freedom, said Charlie’s fate “should give all national health care advocates pause.”

“Charlie Gard has shown us our future under the Affordable Care Act. The ACA will lead to many American ‘Charlie Gards,’” Ms. Brase said in a statement. “Young ones and old ones. And many we won’t hear about.”

Mr. Richards said Charlie’s case demonstrates how “malevolent the health care system can become when it is controlled by the coercive power of the government.”

“It leads to a situation where parents can’t leave of their own volition with their own money to seek treatment elsewhere,” Mr. Richards said. “I think it shows ultimately the moral darkness of the single-payer system. Now that we’re debating that very sort of thing in the U.S., I hope we take it as a lesson.”

In the coming days, Charlie’s parents said they will spend their “last precious moments” with their son, who would have turned 1 in two weeks.

Catherine Glenn Foster, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, who was in the courtroom Monday, said it’s “not the end — not for Charlie, and not for those like him.”

“We will continue to fight for the dignity of every human life and for every parent to make life-affirming, evidence-based choices for their children,” Ms. Foster said.

• Bradford Richardson can be reached at brichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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