This afternoon the long-running, deeply tragic and emotionally fraught legal dispute over treatment of Charlie Gard reached its sad and sadly inevitable conclusion. Following further medical assessment of Charlie by several international experts, Charlie’s parents and doctors finally reached agreement that continuing life support and experimental treatment could not help him.
This is the worst possible outcome for Charlie’s family. They have had to accept the devastating news that their beloved son cannot recover and that their hopes for an experimental treatment cannot be realised.
There are important lessons to learn from this case. Cases of deep disagreement between parents and doctors about treatment for a child are rare. Where they occur, it is often possible with time, patience, and support to find common ground. Where agreement cannot be reached, there is an important role for the courts in helping to reach a decision. However, court review of cases like this is not ideal. It is adversarial, costly, and lengthy. In this case, Charlie has received months of treatment that doctors and nurses caring for him felt was doing him more harm than good.
We need to find better ways to avoid cases of disagreement from coming to court. There is an important role for mediation to help parents and doctors where they have reached an impasse.
We also need a fair, expedient way of resolving disputes. This would mean that patients can access early experimental treatment if there is a reasonable chance that it would not cause significant harm. It would also mean that futile and harmful treatment is not prolonged by a protracted legal process.
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.