At the Federalist this week I wrote about the depressing case of Charlie Gard and its horrifying implications: in the United Kingdom it is apparently official state policy for government officials to run out the clock on a dying boy’s life in order to force his parents to pull the plug on his medical equipment. It is a bizarre fact of life in modern Western civilization that this isn’t the scandal of the century; instead it’s treated as another ho-hum undertaking by a government that evidently has the power to dictate whether or not parents can seek potentially life-saving treatment for their children.
This is the kind of government our progressive friends want. Your garden-variety statist is generally happy to accept a certain amount of collateral damage in exchange for a healthy regime of statism: give them enough single-payer health care and enough hate-speech laws and they’ll happily look the other way when the bureaucrats sentence a baby boy to die by way of government-mandated attrition. And why not? I suppose once you’ve got “abortion free of charge on the NHS,” it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to mandatory passive baby euthanasia.
A great deal of the response to this scandal has run along these lines: “The treatment almost certainly wouldn’t have worked. It was overly wishful of the parents to want to take him to the United States when he very likely would have died either way.” Sure, stipulated—I believe both of those things. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that it was their call, not the government’s, not the doctors at GOSH, not the judge’s.
It is exceedingly difficult for liberals to separate an inadvisable undertaking from an illegal one: if a leftist thinks you shouldn’t do something, he generally thinks you shouldn’t be allowed to do it, either. But that’s not how a free society works, least of all where parental authority is concerned: the family unit, preceding the state and contravening its authority in a million different ways, should not be subject to the same idiot management prerogative that the government applies to its legions of bureaus and departments and offices.
It is more or less beyond question that, had the Gards been permitted to take Charlie to the United States for treatment without any fanfare, and had the treatment ultimately failed, nobody would be arguing that the British government should have forbid them from doing so in the first place. But the Left really only responds to power—above all government power—and so if the government says that something is bad and should not be done, most leftists are incapable of doing anything other than agreeing with it, even if they would have otherwise had no comment on the matter.
Perhaps aware that it more or less resembles a petulant small-scale tinpot fiefdom on the world stage, the Great Ormond Street Hospital issued a statement attempting to rationalize its valiant efforts to ensure Charlie Gard’s young death. It is almost uncomfortably pathetic, less a communique from a medical institution and more a whiny bully’s rationalization for why he hit someone much smaller than him. GOSH essentially says: “We decided Charlie Gard was going to die, so we determined that he should die.” At one point, justifying the hospital’s desire to unplug Charlie’s equipment so that he might die more quickly, GOSH claims: “Charlie shows physical responses to stressors that some of those treating him interpret as pain and when two international experts assessed him last week, they believed that they elicited a pain response.” Got it? “Some of those treating him” “interpret” some of his physical responses as pain; additionally, two other experts “believed” that they elicited a pain response from him. On this kind of irrefutable testimony the British government stole the Gards’ familial rights and allowed a boy’s last chance at life to whither away. Isn’t that an encouraging indication of the competency of the British government in the 21st century?
The hospital goes on to question the competency of the doctor who proposed to treat Charlie, up to and including a strong implication that he was only in it for the money; the evidence presented by the doctor, GOSH argues, “confirms that whilst [the treatment] may well assist others in the future, it cannot and could not have assisted Charlie.” Maybe that’s true. But it is astonishing that any civilized country could interpret such evidence to mean that the Gards should be forbidden by law from pursuing it. Note that the hospital is not delegitimizing the cure itself, as it would snake-oil medicine or quack remedies; rather, they are simply saying that the cure would not work in this one instance, which is ultimately a subjective opinion, and on a topic that should ultimately defer to the parents above all else.
I suppose such an idea is mildly outmoded, at least in England if not elsewhere. Earlier this week the Guardian published a piece by University College London professor Ian Kennedy, who—after expressing the customary politically-correct pieties regarding the Gard case—argued in all seriousness that “parents do not belong to their children.” This is a fashionable idea among progressives, argued by diverse minds from number-one American public intellectual Melissa Harris-Perry to the more zealous intellectuals of Red China during the Great Leap Forward. It sounds good on paper—if you’re a liberal, I suppose. In the end what you end up with is a baby boy wasting his brief and precious life away while a hospital dithers about his “best interests.” Maybe Charlie Gard would have died over here in America—in fact it’s likely that he would have. But decisions about his medical care were not mine to make, nor were they your’s, nor were they the hospital’s or the British court system’s. That right fell solely on his parents—who now must watch their baby boy die, knowing that they had a chance to save him, one that was stolen from them by their own government.