When the State Decides Who Lives and Dies
Written by Gabriel Rench on July 1, 2017
News broke on Tuesday that a young boy in Britain would be denied access to further healthcare in the United States. Charlie Gard, a ten-month-old boy from London, was born last August with an incredibly rare genetic condition called infantile onset encephalomyopathy mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome, or MDDS. At first, Charlie seemed completely normal; he was born at a healthy size and weight, and was taken home by his parents. But after about a month, his parents noticed that he seemed weaker than other babies his age, struggling to lift his head or support himself. So in October of last year, when Charlie was two months old, he was transferred to the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, where he remains today. Five months later, hospital staff began to seek the removal of Charlie’s life support, and thus the legal battle between the Gards and the Great Ormond Street Hospital began.
The problem here has two unsettling implications. First, it shows that the British health system takes power out of the parents’ hands and gives it to the courts. Second, it displays the hypocrisy of our modern times, in which each person is considered master of their own fates, so long as the state is alright with it.
The British Supreme Court chose that it would be in Charlie’s best interest to receive palliative care only. Charlie’s parents were able to raise the more than one million pounds needed to pay for his experimental treatment in the United States. But the British Supreme Court (as well as the European Court of Human Rights) decided that it would not be in Charlie’s best interests to have his suffering extended for a treatment that was “not designed to be curative,” and which may not even be palliative.
We should look at what happens when healthcare (and therefore every individual’s treatment) is made a matter of public concern. In a June 8th 2017 hearing in the British Supreme Court, Charlie’s situation was explained by a reader whose words were sympathetic, but whose demeanor made her seem oblivious to the fact that she was arguing for the denial of treatment to a child. She briefly brushed over something important. She said that “this case is unusual in that the parents are not asking the hospital to provide or continue treatment at public expense; it is the hospital which has asked for permission to withdraw artificial ventilation and provide only palliative care.” This means that they take for granted that a person whose prognosis is grim would be denied further medical care in their system. This case was difficult to rule on not because the state wanted to kill a patient they deemed hopeless; that’s nothing new. This was a strange case because the patient had the means to get alternate care, but the hospital still wanted to let him die.
Now we should see the irony here. We live in a world which claims it is abuse to refuse to allow your son to transition into a girl, but it is not abuse to refuse to let parents seek treatment for their son how they see fit. Our culture sees self-determination as perhaps the highest good; if we all just stayed out of each other’s business things would be better, right? But who controls the self-realization of those who are too young to think for themselves? As Christians, we believe that this is a responsibility granted to parents. But to the modern secular mind—a mind which is torn between the ideals of libertine freedom and the desire for complete control over society—it is taken to be a right of the state.
On this side of the pond, Ontario’s recently passed Bill 89 makes it possible for the government to remove children from the home if the parents fail to respect the child’s “race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, family diversity, disability, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.” This tells us one important thing: we are only free to determine our own identities. The next generation’s self-identification will be done how the state wants it to be. Of course the state will not be dictating what a child self-identifies as, but it will tell parents that they don’t have a say.
So if the state says that it’s not financially feasible—or simply not worth the pain—for a child to live, who are the parents to say otherwise? We need to recognize this threat in all its forms. When secular people argue that parents who believe in faith healing should still be forced to give their children medical care, many would say that seems reasonable. But the state uses that same reasoning to advance their case, and soon they’re moving the other way, telling parents that they can’t provide further medical care to their children, because the child is beyond hope of recovery.
The state is not obligated to have the same idea of what makes living “worth it,” because they shouldn’t have the right to decide who does and doesn’t receive care. They are obligated to protect human lives, and to recognize the authority of a parent to treat their child in the best way possible. We are blessed beyond what we often realize to live in a country that has afforded us the opportunity to raise our children as we see fit. But culture is changing. More Americans find it completely coherent to say out of one side of their mouth that individuals are entirely free, and to say out of the other that the state has the final say in a matter. We need to be insistent about this, and refuse entirely to allow the government to tell us what is best for our children. They have neither the right nor the care to do so.