Earlier this week, an EU court ruled against the parents of Charlie Gard, and condemned their 10-month-old son to death.
By now, you’ve probably heard the story. Charlie was born with an exceedingly rare degenerative condition, and has spent the majority of his brief life on a ventilator at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital. His parents have spent every waking moment fighting for their son, even to the point of raising nearly $2 million to bring him to the United States for an experimental treatment that might save his life.
Charlie’s doctors in London, however, disagreed, saying there was nothing more they could do for Charlie and that he should be taken off life support and allowed to “die with dignity.” The fate of little Charlie’s life wound up in court, eventually making its way to the European Court of Human Rights, where a judge -- who’s never spent a single day in the presence of Charlie Gard -- determined that he should die.
Fresh out of places to turn, Charlie’s parents will be forced to watch their son taken off life support on Friday. By the time most of you read this article, he’ll likely be dead.
The tragic case of Charlie Gard is heartrending, if for no other reason than that his parents have been stripped of their right to determine what is best for their son. It is tragic because this little boy was denied one final shot at being able to live, by a court that had no personal incentive to rule in his favor.
But Charlie Gard’s story also opens up a Pandora’s box of ethical dilemmas for us all, calling into question the line between a person’s right to life and the state’s right, or lack thereof, to deny it.
If a "compassionate" death can be forced on little Charlie Gard, why not on children before they're born? It’s not a stretch. Countless women whose children were diagnosed with fetal anomalies already say their doctor recommended abortion as a compassionate alternative to birth, both to spare her pain and the baby’s suffering down the road. Some of these medical predictions turned out to be valid, while others wound up being entirely wrong.
Despite a lack of certainty with many in-utero diagnoses, many women have taken the advice to terminate their pregnancy early. The BBC reported in 2016 that 90 percent of women in the U.K. whose children are diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome have an abortion. As many as 67 percent of Down’s babies conceived in the United States are killed before they’re born, according to the Life Issues Institute. The recent Zika epidemic in Latin American countries and parts of the United States saw women rushing to buy dangerous at-home-abortion drugs on the Internet to avoid having a child born with microcephaly, even before their baby was ever tested for the condition.
Abortion proponents have argued fiercely and openly against laws that would prevent women from aborting their children on the basis of physical or mental disabilities. Premature death is “compassionate" in such cases, they say. After all, who wants a child that’s forced to grow up different?
It’s already recommended; could it become forced? Surely you can imagine the arguments. It’s more compassionate. It saves money. It may even help weed out diseases from society, as proponents of Down's syndrome abortions have argued. So what if it’s murder, if it’s for the greater good?
In a world in which a court can order that a child be sentenced to death over the wishes of his parents, even while a sliver of hope still remains, such a thing is not so hard to imagine. Particularly in a society that has already so devalued the basic sanctity of human life.
Human life like Charlie Gard’s.