Bioethics Blogs

Charlie Gard: Three Issues That Did Not Make Social Media

by Ann Mongoven, Ph.D., MPH

All hearts go out to the Gard family in this time of grief for their son, Charlie.

The legal wrangling over Charlie’s care became a political football–unfortunately, about many things having little to do with Charlie.

Despite the involvement of Pope Francis, this was not a case about abortion rights or the sanctity of human life. Catholic tradition warns both that quality-of-life arguments can dehumanize the disabled, and that unduly burdensome medical care can become assaultive. There is no “Catholic” view of the case, and Catholic moral theologians disagree about it.

Despite the involvement of Donald Trump, this was not a case about the relative merits of the U.K. National Health Service (NHS) versus other health systems. It was not a case of utilitarian ethics pitted against duty-based ethics or love. The NHS provided extremely expensive intensive care for Charlie for most of his life, and British courts governed cases related to his care solely by a “best interest of the child” standard– amidst heated disagreement between Charlie’s parents and doctors about his interests. The European Court of Human Rights backed the British court decision.

The case did address questions about who should decide when parents and doctors disagree about a child’s medical interest. But contrary to some portrayals in the American press, it neither changed conventional parameters for addressing those questions, nor exposed major differences in legal reasoning used to address them in the U.K. and the U.S.  Both countries appeal to “best interest” standards for resolution, and both reject an absolutist interpretation of parental rights.

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.