What Charlie Gard Tells Us about Us

The fate of an 11 month old British baby is caught up in a battle between his parents and the government hospital and the courts. Charlie Gard suffers from  a rare genetic condition and can’t move his arms or legs or breathe unaided. “MDDS.” is an inherited mitochondrial disease. He is on life support and the condition is considered terminal. The parents want to take him to the United States where two hospitals have offered experimental treatment. Separately, even the Vatican has offered its hospital for treatment. The British hospital backed by the UK and EU courts has said no. Citing “Quality of Life” the hospital won’t even let the parents take Charlie Home. Who should decide? The state or the parents? The Wall Street Journal editorialized its position:

It may be that the experts the British and European courts invoke are right, that even with treatment Charlie won’t live much longer than he might with new interventions. But it’s not their decision to make. Or shouldn’t be.

Charlie’s mother says the hospital won’t allow her and her husband to bring their boy home, meaning that if he is to die, it will be with the hospital and not at home with those who love him. Which raises a question: Whose baby is Charlie, anyway—his parents’ or the state’s? In this delicate case, Britain’s national care system has elevated technical expertise over parental love.

Europe is much further along than America in its aggressive secularization and single-payer health-care control. Those values and priorities are on prominent display here, with an infant’s court-ordered guardian invoking “quality of life” as a reason for not allowing his parents to try experimental treatment.

Precedents matter when a society is confronted with these dilemmas. If the courts prevail in Charlie’s case, it isn’t so difficult to imagine another court ruling that a child with severe Down syndrome or some other genetic disease also doesn’t have the right quality of life. Who decides? Our vote remains with the parents.

In our opinion, favoring the parents over the State is proper. One could argue parents withholding treatment from a child should be overruled in the interest of the child. In this case the state is withholding treatment. This is where their argument breaks down and exposes the greater problem, the difference between state controlled health care (single payer) and real modern medicine. What is most important in this case is two US hospitals thought it was important enough to offer Charlie experimental treatment. If the British Hospital could offer no hope, what would possibly prompt them to deny another arguably better hospital a chance to try?  We believe the answer is in the trade-off one gets when you have single payer health care. When asked on “Meet the Press” about the Canadian single payer system, Malcolm Gladwell put it this way:

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