Bioethics Blogs

Medical Decision-Making In the Tragic Life of Charlie Gard

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

On Friday, Charlie Gard is scheduled to have his life support discontinued. Charlie Gard is an 11-month-old baby born with RRM2B encephalomyopathic mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome—a rare genetic disorder with no cure. Those with the mutation live at most into early childhood with a multitude of life threatening conditions (lactic acidosis, ammonia build up, heart abnormalities). Charlie suffers from seizures, cannot independently breathe. He is also blind and deaf. Great Ormond Street Hospital (London) and Charlie’s doctors believe there is nothing more medically that can be done to benefit him and requested to remove his life sustaining treatment. Connie Yates and Chris Gard, his parents, believe that there is a chance of a miraculous cure in an experimental nucleoside treatment in the United States, even though the technique has never been tried for this condition. In the words of the unnamed U.S. specialist, nucleoside treatment would provide a “small hope” for helping

The case has gone through the British courts and the European Court of Human Rights, all of which agreed with the hospital. They declared that prolonging Charlie’s life would be “inhumane and unreasonable.” The courts believed that the experimental treatment in the US would be futile and could cause Charlie much suffering. The European Court ruled on July 4 that life support can be removed on Friday.

Under British law, when parents and physicians disagree on treatment, the courts normally intervene and are the final decision-makers. Unlike in the US, the highest value is the best interest (benefit) to the child rather than parental rights to make decisions for their child.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.