Neither life nor death are ultimately on our own terms.
The final hours of Charlie Gard’s brief but impactful life have now passed. His parents wanted their very sick and disabled child to be able to die peacefully at home — but arrangements for the kind of intensive care their son needed could not be accommodated. A judge ruled life support would be withdrawn in a hospice setting.
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It is not what the child’s parents wanted, but nothing about little Charlie’s story is what parents would want. No parents want their baby to be diagnosed with an incurable degenerative disease. No one wants to be told the treatment options in his own country are limited. No one wants to be told by doctors that continued treatment is considered more inhumane than allowing a baby to naturally pass from this life. No parents want to watch their baby die in a sterile, institutional environment. No one.
We have grieved with these parents as they have grieved, and still do. But as Christians, we do not grieve as those who have no hope.
The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, the psalmist King David, the gospel writer Luke, and the apostle Paul all bear witness to God’s knowledge and interaction with human beings before they are ever born. In Genesis 25:23, we hear God’s revelation to Rebekah: “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”
Not only does God affirm He already knows Jacob and Esau, but He knows what they will be like, what their relationship will be like — and what the generations proceeding from them will be like!
The secular world does not want to consider that the pre-born are already known to God and in an eternal relationship with Him, but cognitive dissonance makes the truth no less true. Missing throughout the public discussion over Charlie Gard’s life, even as Pope Francis intervened, has been a recognition of God’s presence, power, and all-sufficient grace.
The life of Charlie Gard was conceived by God before the foundations of the earth. God created Charlie, God knows Charlie, and God has an eternity planned for him. I believe God is also using the child’s brief life here on this earth to change conversations and hearts — and maybe even international relationships related to the availability of medical treatment.
Charlie Gard’s case unmasked cultural, moral and ethical conversations that we need to have with ourselves, our neighbors, and as nation-states.
Whose child is he? From a Christian worldview, he is a child of God, given as a sacred trust to his parents to love and nurture for as many days or years as the Lord assigns. The world does not view children in this way. Children are often seen as the chemical and biological outcome of human choice. Humanity is nothing special in a world of endangered species, evolution, and limited resources. Professors at elite U.S. universities argue that children like Charlie Gard should be euthanized. But that is not God’s perspective on any child.
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This question is not exclusive to little Charlie, of course. And we will keep facing it. The parents of young Alfie Evans in Liverpool, England, are facing a similar legal battle against their government for the parental right to pursue any and every available treatment option for their child, who has an undiagnosed ailment and has been in a coma.
The good news is that the response to the plight of Charlie Gard, and now of Alfie’s, has revealed we still view life as precious, parents as essential, and children as valuable. And Charlie’s life also forced us to confront the reality that ultimately we are powerless against death. Life and death remain in God’s sovereign hands. Can we rest today in the comfort of that reality — or do we chafe at the thought?
What now? Many people have responded to Charlie Gard’s story with great empathy and a ready willingness to help. People contributed money and fought for the suspension of international barriers to experimental treatments from foreign countries. And the U.S. Congress even suspended immigration laws to make it possible for Charlie’s parents to bypass the system to come here should the courts allow it.
Little Charlie’s case unmasked cultural, moral and ethical conversations we need to have.
Now the questions include: Are we ready and willing to do for other children born in foreign lands what we were willing to do for Charlie Gard and his parents? If not, why not? And if money is the only answer, is that a legitimate position for a Christian to take?
With Alfie Evans, we now have another high-profile, heart-wrenching example of parents who are potentially facing their child’s death knowing additional medical options are available — but just not for them. That is a reality known to parents around the world who lack access to much simpler life-sustaining necessities.
Millions of kids around the world need clean water, vaccines, or simple treatments available over the counter at drugstores in America. Their parents love them just as deeply as Charlie Gard’s parents loved him — and are doing whatever they can to provide for their children in the face of unjust government actors, natural and man-made devastation, and plain, inhumane cruelty.
Yet they are not followed around by paparazzi. They are not in the daily news. They are unknown to us. God shows no partiality — but we do. Why is that? Why Charlie Gard and not those kids? Why Charlie’s parents and not those parents? As we sit with those questions, we confront our own moral relativism and our instincts for cultural and financial preservation. As Christians, are we OK with that?
These are serious, uncomfortable questions and ones that few people will want to engage. But engage we must because life is precious, parents are essential, children are valuable, medical technology and treatments are always evolving — and access is always limited. This is not the last family that will face this dilemma.
Charlie Gard’s life may be over — but the life-and-death conversations his story brought to the fore are not.
Carmen LaBerge is host of the daily radio show “Reconnect with Carmen” and the author of the upcoming Regnery Faith book, “Speak the Truth,” to be released on September 25. She is based in the Nashville, Tennessee, area.
(photo credit, homepage images: Featureworld)