Politics & Policy

The Corner

Charlie Gard Has Happened Here Too

There is a proper international uproar over U.K. doctors winning the right in court to unilaterally remove the infant Charlie Gard from life support.

Some have commented on the case as if that is a product of the UK’s socialized medical system. It’s not. It is a product of utilitarian bioethics advocacy for the right to refuse wanted life-sustaining treatment — called “futile care” — based on the doctor’s or a hospital bioethics committee’s values on the moral worth of the ill patient’s life and/or the high cost of care.

Similar authoritarian care withdrawals as has been imposed on Charlie Gard have happened here too — and to very ill patients of all ages. I get into a few of these cases involving infants today over at First Things.

  • There was the Baby Ryan case in Seattle, in which a hospital actually reported a family for child abuse because they obtained an injunction against removing kidney dialysis. In the end, the doctors were wrong that death was imminent. The boy lived four years as a happy, if sickly child, who loved to give high-fives.

  • The parents of Baby Terry in Michigan were stripped of their parental rights for refusing to consent to withdrawing life support.

  • In Canada, doctors treating Baby Joseph insisted on the right to remove life support from a terminally ill baby and refused a tracheotomy that would have permitted the baby to go home to die with his family. Priests for Life eventually paid for the baby to be flown to the USA for the procedure, which was successful. Joseph died several months later in his parents arms.

The Charlie Gard case is unique in only one respect: It is the only futile care case I know of in which the hospital and the law is preventing discharge to another facility or allowing the patient to go home to die. From, “Whose Baby is Charlie Gard, Anyway?”

The refusal to allow Charlie’s parents to remove their baby boy from the hospital is an act of bioethical aggression that will extend futile-care controversies, creating a duty to die at the time and place of doctors’ choosing.

And that raises a crucial liberty question: Whose baby is Charlie Gard? His parents’? Or are sick babies — and others facing futile-care impositions — ultimately owned by the hospital and the state?

Again. This isn’t about socialism — although that issue is relevant. More, it is about cost containment — including in free-market systems — and the attempt by the bioethics movement and medical intelligentsia to replace the equality/sanctity of life ethic with a more utilitarian “quality of life” view.

For more on the danger posed by bioethics generally, hit this link. 

Wesley J. Smith — Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism.

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