When the “Right to Die” Becomes a Death Sentence

“Compassion” and “dignity” have been misshapen and twisted into something far different from their original meanings.

The European Court of Human Rights rejected an appeal on June 27 by the parents of Charlie Gard to take their son to the U.S. for treatment.
The European Court of Human Rights rejected an appeal on June 27 by the parents of Charlie Gard to take their son to the U.S. for treatment. (photo: CherryX, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

In 1989, a young man named Anthony David "Tony" Bland attended a soccer match. A supporter of Liverpool F.C., he traveled Hillsborough football ground for a match against Nottingham Forest. Due to some terrible decisions, thousands of fans were corralled into a too-small space behind the Liverpool goal. Tragically, this resulted in the death of 95 people who died that day or in the days after.

But there was a 96th victim. Although Bland survived the initial incident, he suffered severe brain damage and never regained consciousness. On March 3, 1993, after being in a coma for nearly four years, a legal ruling in November 1992 allowed doctors to withdraw his treatment at the request of his family, as there had been no sign of improvement in his condition and the doctors treating him advised that there was no reasonable possibility that he would ever emerge from his persistent vegetative state, and was unlikely to survive more than five years. That day, Tony Bland became the 96th victim. And the first victim of "right to die" politics in the UK.

Since then, there have been untold victims of the "right to die" precedent. And now, the "right to die" has evolved into courts and doctors deciding who should get to live. Today, a baby named Charlie Gard stands condemned to die. Against his parent's wishes. Charlie Gard would celebrate his first birthday this August but it is unlikely he will ever get to do so. He suffers from the rarest of diseases, known as infantile onset encephalomyopathic mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome, which is referred to as “MDDS.” Baby Charlie has suffered severe brain damage and can not breathe on his own and has been on life support in the intensive-care unit at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. After a few months, doctors recommended to his parents, Connie Yates and Chris Gard, that the baby be removed from the ventilator. The parents refused, saying that they still wanted to attempt an experimental treatment in the United States.

The hospital applied to the courts to discontinue treatment. In April, the court sided with the doctors. But the parents appealed, only to lose time and time again. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court too sided with the doctors and against the parents. All the courts agreed that baby Charlie should "die with dignity." All agree, except Charlie's parents. Can you imagine the horror of bureaucrats and judges telling you that you are not allowed to seek further treatment for your child in another country? And on top of that they call it "compassion" and "dignity."

Some say this is a case of socialized medicine come to its logical conclusion. And it certainly is. But even more crucially, it is an example of a culture that no longer deems life to be priceless or sacred. And when life is no longer a gift from God or priceless, it's just a matter of haggling over its cost. The case forces us to look deeper into certain questions. Ian Tuttle correctly writes at The Corner:

The question, then, is not what would Charlie Gard want — a question no one can answer. The question is what do we owe to people such as Charlie, who cannot speak for themselves? What duty of care do we owe them simply on account of their being human beings, who are by nature possessed of an inalienable dignity? What obligations do we have to those who suffer, and how should we understand their suffering? And, pertinent to this case, under what circumstances should the tightest bonds of affection — those between parent and child — be subordinated to the judgment of the state?
The precedent established by Charlie Gard’s case will metastasize, as similar decisions have. It will be made to apply to children with more-familiar illnesses and better prognoses; it will be used to dismiss the input of parents whose values and priorities when it comes to medical care and end-of-life issues do not align with those of the state; it may be used simply to clear beds for “worthier” patients in a health-care system with very limited resources. This, presumably, will be “compassionate,” too. Any day now, they’ll kill Charlie Gard. But it’s in his own best interest. Don’t you see?

The road from Tony Bland to Baby Charlie has been made easy by words such as "compassion" and "dignity" but those words have been misshapen and twisted into something far different from their original meanings. Much of Europe is becoming a post-Christian culture and it prides itself on it. But removing Christianity from Europe is like playing civilizational Jenga. And it will end the way every game of Jenga ends. With pieces on the ground. And then what? Some will delight to play among the pieces for a time. But others will build. Others are already building. And amongst Europe's ruins, will come a new century of unabashed horrors adorned by pretty well-meaning words.

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