Parents ask to take dying baby home
LONDON — Charlie Gard’s mother returned to London’s High Court on Tuesday to ask a judge to let her and the baby’s father take their critically ill son home to die, but the day ended without a resolution to the request.
After months of court hearings over the 11-monthold boy’s fate that drew attention from Pope Francis, U.S. President Donald Trump and people around the world, discussion came down to the details of ending a life: How could Charlie be transported from a hospital to his parents’ west London home? Could ventilation be maintained on the way? Would his ventilator fit through the front door of the house?
“The parents’ last wish is to take Charlie home for a few days of tranquility outside the hospital,” family lawyer Grant Armstrong said in a written statement.
Armstrong accused London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital, where Charlie is being treated, of putting obstacles in the way of that outcome.
The hospital’s lawyer, Katie Gollop, said Great Ormond Street wanted “above all” to fulfill the parents’ last wish, but also had to take the baby’s best interests into account.
“The care plan must be safe. It must spare Charlie all pain and protect his dignity,” she said.
The hospital said Charlie would be able to die with dignity, surrounded by his family, in a hospice. Armstrong said Charlie’s parents regarded that as the second-best option, “a notch better” than the hospital.
Judge Nicholas Francis, who has presided over the case for months, said the sensitive issues cried out “for mediation” — not for the ruling of a judge. But so far, attempts to find agreement have failed.
At the end of a hearing attended by Charlie’s mother, Connie Yates, Francis said he felt that a hospice, rather than the family home, would be best. The judge said he would make his final ruling today.
“I don’t think it’s fair to prolong their suffering any longer,” he said.
Charlie suffers from mitochondrial depletion syndrome, a rare genetic disease. He has brain damage and is unable to breathe unaided.
His parents — Yates and her partner Chris Gard — have battled for months to bring Charlie to the United States for an experimental treatment they believed would improve his condition. Doctors at Great Ormond Street opposed that, saying it would not help and could cause Charlie more suffering.
British courts and the European Court of Human Rights have sided with Great Ormond Street, one of the world’s leading children’s hospitals, in its bid to remove life support and let Charlie die naturally.
U.S.-based activists flew to London to support Charlie’s parents, and the case became a flash point for opposing views on health care funding, medical intervention, the role of the state and the rights of the child.
Some commentators portrayed the case as a clash between family and the state, and U.S. conservatives used it to criticize Britain’s government-funded health care system.
The commentary led the judge to criticize the effects of social media and those “who know almost nothing about this case but who feel entitled to express opinions.”
At its heart, the case pitted the right of parents to decide what’s best for their children against the authorities’ responsibility to uphold the rights of people who can’t speak for themselves. Under British law, children have rights independent of their parents, and it is typical for courts to intervene when parents and doctors disagree on the treatment of a child.
On Monday, Charlie’s parents abandoned their battle for treatment, saying that time had run out and the proposed therapy would no longer be effective because Charlie had severe and irreversible muscular damage.