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The Charlie Gard Case: What It Means for the Sanctity of Life

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Millions of people around the globe have been captivated and deeply moved by the tragic story of little Charlie Gard.

He is the 11-month-old English infant who is gravely ill, probably terminally, and languishing in a British hospital — a captive to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS).

Little Charlie has severe brain damage, is blind and deaf, has frequent seizures, and must breathe through a ventilator to survive.

The NHS and the European courts, which have final authority in such matters in Britain, determined that the child's life-support systems should be turned off at the end of last month. Based on the pleas of his distraught parents, that withdrawal of life support was postponed temporarily to allow the parents to have more time with their child. The final appeal is pending.

The parents want their son released into their custody so they can take him to America — where at least one neurologist is willing to use an experimental treatment on the boy that might have at least a slim chance of improving, if not curing, his condition.

Charlie Gard has become the current human face of the basic, gut-wrenching debate about who makes end-of-life decisions for human beings.

We must not allow ourselves to get lost in the medical, technical and legal jargon of this tragic case. The Charlie Gard case is at the crux of the titanic debate raging throughout Western civilization of those advocating the historic "sanctity of life" ethic, versus those who are espousing a "quality of life" ethic.

However the Charlie Gard case is adjudicated ultimately, this crucial debate will continue, and it has enormous implications for end-of-life decisions for tens of millions of terminally ill patients at all stages of life.

Related: Charlie Gard's Case: Maybe the Doctors Aren't Right [1]

The advocates of the quality of life ethic are asserting that Charlie does not have a life worthy of living (the Third Reich called it lebensunwertes leben). The merciful and humane thing to do for such people, therefore, is let them die — a sort of "death therapy."

The sanctity of life ethic asserts that Charlie Gard is a human being and as such, has an inherent right to life no matter how perilous or incurable his medical condition. Furthermore, sanctity of life proponents argue that withdrawing his life support system is an active measure that is the moral equivalent of euthanasia or mercy killing. It is analogous to what Pope John Paul II meant when he stated that the withdrawal of basic nutrition and hydration (via a feeding tube) from a comatose patient is "euthanasia by other means." (go to page 2 to continue reading)

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The second basic question in this case is who should have the ultimate authority to make the decision concerning Charlie's fate — his parents or the government? Historically, in Western civilization and particularly in the English-speaking world, that final decision-making authority has been vested with the parents, not the government. The only real legal precedent to the contrary has been if the parents are denying a child life-saving medical treatment because of religious convictions.

In such cases, the U.S. courts have concluded that the state has a "compelling interest" in the child's right to survival. Thus, the courts have been willing to intervene to order, for instance, blood transfusions for a child even if it violates the religious convictions of the parents. The courts argue the child is not capable of understanding the consequences of such a decision, and so the court intervenes on the child's behalf and orders the transfusions.

Related: What Becomes of the Persecuted Christians of Iraq and Syria? [3]

Of course, in the Charlie Gard case, the medical treatment will almost certainly be palliative, rather than therapeutic or curative. Even so, the ultimate decision should reside with the parents, not the government's doctors, judges or lawyers.

This child's case also has enormous implications relating to current health care debates here in America. When the government runs health care, as it does in the single-payer NHS system in Britain, the supposedly "free" guaranteed access to health care is anything but free. First, consumers pay taxes for care. More importantly, perhaps the biggest price you pay with government-run health care is to surrender your autonomy to decide what is the best health care for you and your children's welfare — a terrible price indeed.

Although Charlie Gard may be severely, perhaps terminally, medically challenged, he is forever his parents' little boy — and they love and cherish him. They should have the right to seek whatever care they think may help him.

How dare government bureaucrats say otherwise.

Dr. Richard Land is an evangelical leader and president of Southern Evangelical Seminary. He served on President Donald Trump's Evangelical Faith Advisory Board during the election and is still involved in a consulting capacity with the White House today. Land is featured in his nationally syndicated daily radio commentary, "Bringing Every Thought Captive," which airs on nearly 800 stations nationwide. (photo credit: Featureworld)