Whose Baby is it?

07-23-2017Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

Often when someone dies prematurely, their loved ones will say things such as “we did all we could.” In other words, they left no stone unturned in trying to find a treatment that would keep their loved one from dying. I realize it is a small comfort but a comfort nonetheless. The parents of baby Charlie Gard in the UK are being denied the comfort of saying, “we did all we could.”

Baby Charlie, born with a severe genetic disease, received treatment at a London hospital. When the parents requested that they wanted to take their child to the U.S. for experimental treatments (using money they had privately raised), the hospital said no. The parents appealed to the British courts and their request was denied; likewise, the request was denied when they appealed to the European Court for Human Rights. The hospital said that Charlie must “die with dignity” - whatever that means. One thing it does mean is that the hospital, and not Charlie’s parents, gets to decide when and where this child will die. All the while, the hospital and physicians talk out of both sides of their mouth: on one hand, they say Charlie has no brain activity, can’t move, eat, hear, or see; hence, treatment is futile. Then at the same time, they state that to move Charlie to the U.S. and give him experimental treatment would be torturous for the child. The hospital is making nothing more than a value judgment that low probability chances are not worth taking and that some lives are of a quality not worth trying to save. Ethicists call this Futile Care Policy, and it is the hospital or its anonymous Ethics Board, and not the patient or parent, that gets to decide when treatment is futile. This is already making its way into U.S. hospitals. Baby Charlie’s condition is not futile since there is a life-sustaining treatment available that could possibly help him survive. The hospital and the courts are refusing to acknowledge that. (This is similar to a case here at St. Joe’s Hospital, where hospital personnel performed a direct abortion and refused to admit that there were other medical options available that could have helped.)

In the meantime, Pope Francis and President Trump have weighed in with support for Charlie’s parents and offers of assistance. The international attention is putting pressure on the Hospital to reconsider and as of this writing, a US Physician will be examining Baby Charlie. The problem is, the British decided a long time ago that Caesar would pick up the tab for health care, and so the all knowing and all wise state, through its medical mouthpieces, gets to play parent and the courts get to play God. I’ve never understood the logic that a person is better off dead? Maybe it is better for the hospital who won’t have to deal with baby Charlie, but is it really in the best interests of Charlie that he is better off not existing at all or at least given a chance even if the odds are low?

The hospital finally relented a bit and said they would not remove Charlie from life support immediately so as to allow, (get that, they “allow”) the parents to spend time with their son. And in a shockingly aggressive move, the hospital even denied the parents’ request to take Charlie home so he could die there rather than a pediatric ICU. For the parents of baby Charlie Gard, there are no crueler tyrannies this side of hell.

Also happening across the pond: an Orthodox Jewish grammar school has found itself in the crosshairs of the British version of the ‘Thought/Education Police’ commonly known as the Office of Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills. The Vishnitz Girls School educates girls 3–8 years old but has failed to fully implement in its curriculum the Equality Act 2010, which makes it mandatory for British schools to educate on a range of “protected characteristics,” including age, disability, race, sex, and sexual orientation. While the Office of Standards admits the school does a good job on issues of age, race, and disability; however, they do not teach pupils about all the protected characteristics, particularly those relating to gender reassignment and sexual orientation. The school is now facing possible closure by the British authorities. So far, the school is holding its ground. My own experience of dealing with the politics of education and sexuality shows me that while many claim that all equalities are equal, the truth is that some equalities are more equal than others. Failure to recognize that there is a definite hierarchy when it comes to these “protected characteristics” tends to get you kicked out of polite company and possibly lose your license to run a school in the UK.

This is another issue of the state usurping the rights of parents to care for and educate their children according to their sincerely held religious values. The Orthodox Jewish tradition has a similar view of the human person that we as Catholics hold. Because we both teach that the human person is made in the image of God, as male or female, in a complementary relationship does not mean that we teach our child to disrespect those who do not hold that view or that they shouldn't be treated with the same dignity that befits all human persons. We do not teach hate or contempt for people who believe differently than we do and to suggest that a school like Vishnitz School, because it does not explicitly teach 3-8yr old girls the convoluted politics of sex and gender and a distorted view of the human person, is outrageous.

While this tyranny is not at the level that Charlie Gard’s parents have experienced, it is a tyranny nonetheless. We need to stay vigilant, as we do not need this type of British invasion.


Fr. John B.