The issue with Charlie Gard, a poor, blind and deaf 11-month old boy sentenced to a cold death by a government satraps, is relatively simple. As Ross Douthat tweeted, it’s not complicated at all.
People keep telling me that the Charlie Gard case is extremely complicated but it does not seem complicated at all.
— Ross Douthat (@DouthatNYT) July 19, 2017
It, in fact, can be summed up in two documents. One is Great Ormond Street hospital’s statement:
“Charlie’s parents fundamentally believe that they alone have the right to decide what treatment Charlie has and does not have.”
They followed that statement of belief with their own, “different principles.”
“A world where only parents speak and decide for children and where children have no separate identity or rights and no court to hear and protect them is far from the world in which GOSH treats its child patients.”
The bombast and hypocrisy of this statement is so thick I can barely unpack it.
Of course, when children can express their own desires, or when parents harm children, it is the state’s job to step in to correct anti-social or criminal behavior. But Charlie Gard’s case has neither of those elements. Charlie doesn’t need to be protected from his parents because they are trying to treat him, not kill him.
The state has decided that Charlie’s life has no value, and the hospital is defending its right to make that decision as the state’s moral agent, overriding the moral agency of parents.
This is the essential conflict here. Parents do have control over their children as moral actors, or they are simply agents of the state, acting in accordance with the government’s wishes, within very established lanes. Making them agents of the state places the state above God as the ultimate moral lawgiver and transcendent conscience.
That is the world in which GOSH operates, and it’s dysfunctional as hell.
The world where the U.S. Congress operates is a more compassionate one.
The House Appropriations Committee voted to add an amendment giving permanent legal U.S. residence to Charlie, so that he can seek treatment here. Treatment his parents desire for him, and can pay for out of their own pockets.
It’s a small step, and it likely won’t change anything. But nevertheless, it’s meaningful in what it articulates about America versus Britain.
This isn’t a matter like, say, Chelsea née Bradley Manning, who had the U.S. government pay for his sex change surgery. Charlie’s parents don’t want the British National Health Service to pay for anything. They just want the hospital to get its mitts off their son.
Charlie’s case is also different from Justina Pelletier, a teenager whose parents disagreed with a few Boston doctors, leading to a 16-month ordeal that has been called “medical kidnapping,” and them being accused of child neglect. It led one engineer “Marty G” Gottesfeld to organize an online attack against the hospital, earning him a cell in a maximum security federal prison awaiting a Jan. 2018 trial.
This isn’t medical kidnapping, since the British government believes they own Charlie, and that his parents have no right to determine his care. The government makes a terrible parent, and a worse pastor.
I think most people understand at an instinctual level that when the government becomes god, the tyranny we will all experience, from cradle to grave, is worse than the harshest trials of free people living with their own right to fail. People are not serfs, and parents are not peons.
It’s not very complicated at all.