Tânia Rêgo/ABr/Agência Brasil/Wikimedia Commons
Charlie Gard has become a household name in the past few weeks. Diagnosed with mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome, Charlie was given a virtual death sentence well before his first birthday.
But it was the healthcare system in the United Kingdom that sealed his fate — along with a European judge who stood with the NHS in its decision to bar Charlie’s parents from traveling to the United States for an experimental treatment, despite the fact that they had raised money for that sole purpose.
Following the NHS’s decision, the Vatican released a statement:
The matter of the English baby Charlie Gard and his parents has meant both pain and hope for all of us. We feel close to him, to his mother, his father, and all those who have cared for him and struggled together with him until now. For them, and for those who are called to decide their future, we raise to the Lord of Life our prayers, knowing that “in the Lord our labor will not be in vain.” (1 Cor. 15:58)
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales issued a statement today that recognizes above all the complexity of the situation, the heartrending pain of the parents, and the efforts of so many to determine what is best for Charlie. The Bishops’ statement also reaffirms that “we should never act with the deliberate intention to end a human life, including the removal of nutrition and hydration, so that death might be achieved” but that “we do, sometimes, however, have to recognize the limitations of what can be done, while always acting humanely in the service of the sick person until the time of natural death occurs.”
The proper question to be raised in this and in any other unfortunately similar case is this: what are the best interests of the patient? We must do what advances the health of the patient, but we must also accept the limits of medicine and, as stated in paragraph 65 of the Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, avoid aggressive medical procedures that are disproportionate to any expected results or excessively burdensome to the patient or the family. Likewise, the wishes of parents must heard and respected, but they too must be helped to understand the unique difficulty of their situation and not be left to face their painful decisions alone. If the relationship between doctor and patient (or parents as in Charlie’s case) is interfered with, everything becomes more difficult and legal action becomes a last resort, with the accompanying risk of ideological or political manipulation, which is always to be avoided, or of media sensationalism, which can be sadly superficial.
Dear Charlie, dear parents Chris Gard and Connie Yates, we are praying for you and with you.
Essentially, the Vatican said that it was not the business of the Church to step between doctor and patient (or, in this case, between doctor and parent) and muddy the waters.
Of course, the point the Vatican failed to address was that the NHS had already stepped between patient and doctor, taking the case to a European Human Rights Court. That court decided that Charlie’s right to “die with dignity” superseded his parents’ right to try to save him.
But considering the Catholic Church’s official position on life, many felt that the Vatican’s statement fell a bit short of the mark:
Reading this cowardly Vatican sttmnt on baby Gard’s death sentence reminds me of the “shhh" in Mellish's final scene in Saving Private Ryan: pic.twitter.com/YIwUB48iYe
— T. Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) June 30, 2017
There is no clearer example of the culture of death than the state legally barring two parents from doing everything to save their child.
— T. Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) June 30, 2017
But what really started the eyebrows raising was the following tweet from Pope Francis himself:
To defend human life, above all when it is wounded by illness, is a duty of love that God entrusts to all.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) June 30, 2017
People noticed that it didn’t exactly align with the Vatican’s statement:
This seems to be opposite message your people are sending re: #CharlieGard
— StickMan (@Stick_Man_Says) June 30, 2017
really? Then why don't you stand up for baby Charlie instead of that idiotic, morally ambivalent equivocation garbage?
— Don't California My Texas (@KeleJohnson) July 1, 2017
Please help #charliegard, a U.K. Hospital are removing life support after the weekend, denying him the chance of treatment in the USA ??
— Sonia Powell✨ (@aaronlissy) June 30, 2017
If so, defend Charlie Gard life out loud!
Say his name, say the words.
We, catholics, need you to do It!#CharlieGard
— Patricia Azevedo (@vieira_veras) June 30, 2017
— empatn (@m27731630) June 30, 2017
#CharlieGard is ready for your intervention.
— Ignazio (@IgnazioChicago) June 30, 2017
It was such a departure that some were forced to ask whether His Holiness was even aware of the statement:
All due respect, sir, did you read the statement released under your auspices today?
— Amy (@famousamosquito) June 30, 2017