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Vatican's Academy for Life issues statement on baby Charlie Gard

Terminally-ill baby Charlie Gard with his parents, Connie Yates and Chris Gard, in London's Great Ormond Street Hospital  - RV

Terminally-ill baby Charlie Gard with his parents, Connie Yates and Chris Gard, in London's Great Ormond Street Hospital - RV

29/06/2017 13:37

(Vatican Radio) The Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life has issued a statement regarding the case of the terminally-ill English baby, Charlie Gard.

On Tuesday the European Court of Human Rights rejected a plea from the baby’s parents to be allowed to move him to the United States for experimental medical treatment.

Listen to Philippa Hitchen's report:

10-month old Charlie was born with a rare genetic condition called mitochondrial depletion syndrome, which causes progressive muscle weakness and brain damage.

He is being kept alive on a life support system, but Britain’s Supreme Court also ruled earlier in June that it was not in the baby’s interest to move him or continue treatment. Specialists at London’s Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital believe Charlie has no chance of survival.

Limits of medicine

In a statement, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life says the interests of the patient must be paramount, but adds “we must also accept the limits of medicine and […..] avoid aggressive medical procedures that are disproportionate to any expected results or excessively burdensome to the patient or the family.

Pain of the parents

Quoting comments from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, the Vatican statement speaks of the “complexity of the situation, the heartrending pain of the parents, and the efforts of so many to determine what is best for Charlie”.

It reaffirms that “we should never act with the deliberate intention to end a human life, including the removal of nutrition and hydration” but adds that “we do, sometimes, however, have to recognize the limitations of what can be done, while always acting humanely in the service of the sick person until the time of natural death occurs.”

Risks of ideological manipulation

Warning of the risks of ideological or political manipulation, as well as media sensationalism, the statement stresses that “the wishes of parents must be heard and respected, but they too must be helped to understand the unique difficulty of their situation and not be left to face their painful decisions alone”. 

Please see below the full statement from the Pontifical Academy for Life

The matter of the English baby Charlie Gard and his parents has meant both pain and hope for all of us.  We feel close to him, to his mother, his father, and all those who have cared for him and struggled together with him until now.  For them, and for those who are called to decide their future, we raise to the Lord of Life our prayers, knowing that “in the Lord our labor will not be in vain.” (1 Cor. 15:58)

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales issued a statement today that recognizes above all the complexity of the situation, the heartrending pain of the parents, and the efforts of so many to determine what is best for Charlie.  The Bishops’ statement also reaffirms that “we should never act with the deliberate intention to end a human life, including the removal of nutrition and hydration, so that death might be achieved” but that “we do, sometimes, however, have to recognize the limitations of what can be done, while always acting humanely in the service of the sick person until the time of natural death occurs.”

The proper question to be raised in this and in any other unfortunately similar case is this:  what are the best interests of the patient?  We must do what advances the health of the patient, but we must also accept the limits of medicine and, as stated in paragraph 65 of the Encyclical Evangelium Vitae, avoid aggressive medical procedures that are disproportionate to any expected results or excessively burdensome to the patient or the family.  Likewise, the wishes of parents must heard and respected, but they too must be helped to understand the unique difficulty of their situation and not be left to face their painful decisions alone.  If the relationship between doctor and patient (or parents as in Charlie’s case) is interfered with, everything becomes more difficult and legal action becomes a last resort, with the accompanying risk of ideological or political manipulation, which is always to be avoided, or of media sensationalism, which can be sadly superficial.

Dear Charlie, dear parents Chris Gard and Connie Yates, we are praying for you and with you.

✠ Vincenzo Paglia President

Vatican City, June 28th 2017

29/06/2017 13:37