Painful Lessons From the Loss of Baby Indi Gregory

A NOTE FROM THE PUBLISHER: Indi Gregory is another victim of the culture of death in Western nations where doctors rely on a ‘quality-of-life’ test, against parents’ will, to pass judgment on a human being’s worthiness for continued earthly existence.

Terminally ill British infant Indi Gregory died Nov. 13, 2023.
Terminally ill British infant Indi Gregory died Nov. 13, 2023. (photo: Courtesy photo / Christian Concern)

Few things showcase the deep love and connection of parents with their child more than when that child is sick. In that moment, the human instinct to protect, guard and do anything to save your child kicks in. Fighting the limits of medicine and resources is difficult enough to grapple with. But fighting the full power of your government and the weight of institutional bureaucracy can devastate the human spirit. We mourn the loss of baby Indi, but we must also learn from her parents’ experience.

The tragic, government-decreed death of 8-month-old Indi Gregory Nov. 13 demonstrated just how deeply public authorities in the United Kingdom have devalued the rights of parents and children and ultimately the right to life and human dignity itself. As with the earlier cases of Charlie Gard, Alfie Evans and Alta Fixsler, U.K. judges ratified a decision by medical professionals working within the country’s socialized National Health Service (NHS) to withdraw baby Indi’s life-sustaining medical support, overriding the vociferous objections of her mother and father.

And after the Italian government made a dramatic last-minute intervention, bestowing Italian citizenship on Indi in hopes of extending her life, the U.K. legal system also heartlessly denied her mother, Claire, and father, Dean, the opportunity to take Indi to the Vatican-run Bambino Gesù Pediatric Hospital in Rome for continued care, just as it previously refused to allow the parents of Charlie and Alfie to take their own babies for treatment there.

A number of factors have empowered the legal and medical institutions of the United Kingdom to mete out these death-dealing decisions. The bureaucratic mentality generated by decades of socialized medicine is a central element. Such systems are always inclined towards rationing their scarce, taxpayer-funded resources by denying treatments that doctors judge to be hopeless. Indeed, that’s a major reason why Canada, with a similarly socialized health care system, has rapidly become the world’s worst offender in terms of hospital officials initiating discussions about medically assisted suicide with patients who had never previously considered the idea.

Some of that mentality was likely in play in Indi’s case, too. But more directly salient to the decision to mandate her death was the overbearing “we-always-know-what’s-best” attitude that socialized medicine breeds. This outlook powerfully inclines British medical officials to reject loving parents’ appeals that would enable them to seek last-ditch treatments outside the scope of the NHS. These appeals are rejected even when releasing the patient to the parents’ request will cost the system nothing, as in Indi’s case, because Italy had committed itself publicly to paying for all of her treatments at Bambino Gesù. 

The less-socialized U.S. health care system has retained a clearer collective understanding that patients with terminal illnesses, such as the congenital degenerative mitochondrial disease that afflicted Indi, retain the right to try treatments elsewhere, even if the doctors currently treating them believe these treatments will be futile. Faithful Catholics are always inclined toward an openness to this “right-to-try” approach, given that we know that miracles of healing regularly occur after medical authorities have concluded there is no hope of recovery.

Added to the overbearing attitude of British medical authorities is the U.K.’s deep-seated judicial arrogance in crushing parental authority. Similarly to many other international jurisdictions, the applicable U.K. standard is that the court should determine what is in “the best interests” of a minor child if parents, government officials and a “guardian” appointed by the state to represent the child can’t agree on a course of action. But since the 1980s, this “best-interest” standard increasingly has been interpreted to mean that the state, not parents, is the default party most capable of safeguarding a child’s interests. This statist presumption prevails even when the parents are utterly committed to protecting their child, as British judges conceded was undeniably true with respect to Indi’s parents.

Courtesy of this presumption, the U.K. courts administered one final callous heartbreak to Indi’s mom and dad. Again, breaking the bond between parent and child in a medical custody battle, and giving preference to her medical caregivers over her parents, the legal system denied their request to bring her home for her last hours following the removal of her breathing tube. Instead, the court mandated that she spend her final moments of life in a hospice — one final application of the bureaucratic premise that an institution would better serve the dying baby’s interests than her loving family home.

Most fundamentally, though, Indi is another prominent victim of the culture of death that has enveloped Western cultures. 

With the progressive erosion of their foundational Christian beliefs upholding the sanctity and inviolability of every vulnerable human life, Western nations increasingly rely on a “quality-of-life” test to pass judgment about a human being’s worthiness for continued earthly existence. When this “quality” is deemed insufficient, the inevitable conclusion is that a person is better off dead. The state then concludes it has a solemn responsibility to facilitate that outcome as expeditiously as possible. 

Christians see things very differently. They understand that a human being’s innate dignity is never diminished, no matter what disabilities they might experience in their earthly journey. Consequently, as Pope Francis constantly emphasizes, human suffering should always call us to the true compassion of loving accompaniment, not the false compassion of a premature death.

There is no easy or quick solution to replacing the contemporary culture of death with a renewed culture of life. But there is a partial political remedy available in the U.K. for heartrending cases like Indi Gregory and Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans, as the U.K. bishops noted in their statement mourning Indi’s death. They called for support of an amendment to their nation’s Health and Care Act 2022 that would greatly enhance the standing of parents when a dispute arises regarding the provision of palliative care for a sick child.

The statement also drew attention to the reality that the horrific legal ordeal inflicted on Indi and her family has resulted in an eternal spiritual victory. 

Indi’s father, Dean, a previously irreligious man, was moved to request the holy sacrament of baptism for her in September after experiencing what he described as being “dragged to hell” in court. “I thought that if the devil exists, then God must exist,” the father explained about his decision to have Indi baptized. Dean also plans to be baptized himself.

“As a baptized child of God, we believe that she will now share in the joy of heaven after her short life, which brought deep joy to her parents, who loved and protected her as a precious gift of God,” the U.K. bishops commented in their statement.

Catholics and other Christians everywhere can rejoice that her parents responded with this final gift of love that opened the door of heaven for Baby Indi, even though this does not diminish the evil of the bureaucratic decision-making that foreshortened her physical life. And alongside of our profound sorrow for their loss, we can hope and pray that Indi’s tragic death will awaken consciences in the U.K. and elsewhere in the world about the value of life.  
God bless you!

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