In a heartbreaking case in the United Kingdom, Connie Yates and Chris Gard just lost their final appeal in battling for their son Charlie’s life. This means the hospital where 10-month-old Charlie has been staying since birth will now legally remove his life support, essentially euthanizing an infant against his parents’ wishes.
Charlie was born last August with a rare disease, mitochondrial depletion syndrome, which causes progressive muscle weakness and brain damage. Medical staff at the hospital believed he would not improve and it was best for Charlie to “die with dignity.” His parents did not agree, so the case went to a judge, who affirmed the hospital’s recommendation. The European Court of Human Rights concluded that the UK’s decision to deny the couple’s right to remove their son from the hospital to obtain care in the United States did not violate the terms of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The UK’s system of socialized medicine provided the framework for the legal system to usurp these parents’ rights. It’s a two-headed dragon of law and socialized medicine that could easily pair to usurp parental rights in America as well.
Courts Versus Parents
Unlike the United States, the UK has legal precedent that strongly supports state impositions on parental rights and child welfare. Within months of Charlie’s hospitalization because of his debilitating disease, the hospital lobbied to pull Charlie’s life support. His parents objected, hoping Charlie could receive experimental treatment. The couple raised more than $1.3 million via GoFundMe to come to the United States for that purpose. The two parties—three if you include Charlie’s court-appointed attorney—quickly came to an impasse, so the issue went before Britain’s legal system.
The judge concluded, after reviewing the medical evidence, that Charlie was terminally ill and therefore should not receive further treatment. He said in the summary released to the media weeks ago: “It is with the heaviest of hearts, but with complete conviction for Charlie’s best interests, that I find it is in Charlie’s best interests that I accede to these applications and rule that GOSH [Great Ormond Street Hospital] may lawfully withdraw all treatment save for palliative care to permit Charlie to die with dignity.”
In court, Charlie’s parents asked he be “given the chance” to try treatment in the United States. His mother said, “If I thought for a moment that Charlie was in pain or suffering I would not fight for that life to be extended.” While it seems astounding a hospital could team up with the legal system to usurp parents’ rights, it’s actually well within British legal precedent.
In Britain, the State Knows Best
According to British law, the judge in the case noted, the government has the power to interfere and overrule parents if government officials disagree with what parents think is in the child’s best interests: “Some people may ask why the court has any function in this process; why can the parents not make this decision on their own? The answer is that, although the parents have parental responsibility, overriding control is vested in the court exercising its independent and objective judgment in the child’s best interests.”
This very thing was demonstrated in a landmark case in 2002,when a British judge ordered conjoined twin infants to be surgically separated at birth, against the parents’ wishes. The weaker of the twin girls, “Mary,” whose heart and lungs were not fully developed, was essentially robbing the strength of the older one, “Jodie.” Had they remained conjoined, the judge and medical professionals believe they would have both died. So the judge ordered them separated.
As a result, Mary died and Jodie lived. Forget “Mother knows best.” Here the state not only insists that third parties know what’s best for other people’s kids but have the power to act on it, even against parents’ wishes.
What’s Socialized Medicine Got to Do With It?
While it’s not uncommon to involve the legal system in the United States—everyone remembers the awful case of Terri Schiavo—there hasn’t been a case here quite like that of baby Charlie. In addition to British law’s authoritarian bent against parental rights, socialized medicine operates in England via the British National Health Service (NHS). According to CNN Money, this sytem is “financed through tax and compulsory national insurance contributions, but faces serious financial problems.”
Specifically, “The accounts of two-thirds of NHS providers were in the red in 2015, with a combined deficit of £2.5 billion in the last financial year. Prime Minister Theresa May has promised an extra £10 billion for the NHS by 2020, but lawmakers say the pledge is worth less than half that when rising costs are taken into account.”
Given that socialism always “runs out of other people’s money,” as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher noted, it makes sense NHS seeks to cut costs even at the expense of human life and despite parents’ ability to pay. For example, the cost to provide 24/7 care to a person, including life support, in the United States is anywhere from $2,000 to 4,000 per day. If Charlie was diagnosed around three months old, he’s been in the hospital approximately 151 days.
At $3,000 per day, Charlie’s care will have cost British taxpayers about $500,000 in U.S. dollars so far. Of course, the judge in Charlie’s case said his decision has nothing to do with “affordability” but what is in “Charlie’s best interests.” But that’s not realistic given the political pressures that inevitably come to cut costs under socialized medicine. We’ve seen similar patient-harming cuts in all socialized systems, including the United States’ own Veterans Administration hospitals and under Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.
This Could Happen Outside the UK
Neither judge, hospital, nor even Charlie’s parents have insinuated NHS is the culprit, but it’s hard to imagine a difficult legal battle this early in Charlie’s young life had the parents simply been paying for his care through private insurance. Even if the judge’s ruling wasn’t expressly based on cost, it is the natural consequence of socialized medicine where a person’s life is valued by “quality of life” as determined by people external to the family.
In this case, Britain’s totalitarian-leaning views on parental rights provided the framework for socialized medicine to pull the trigger. Because NHS is footing the bill for Charlie’s round-the-clock care and medical staff believe he’s worsening, they saw fit to intervene via the court system. That makes NHS the bank, the hospital the parent, and the court God. It’s a triumvirate of an abuse of power originating in the idea that government should manage health, wealth, education, and thus our intimate family lives. In America, it’s clear the country is ripe for a similar set-up as courts become increasingly intrusive in family life and medicine becomes increasingly controlled by bureaucrats instead of individuals.
In Prince v. Massachusetts (1944), the Supreme Court held that the government “has broad authority to regulate the actions and treatment of children” and that “parental authority is not absolute and can be permissibly restricted if doing so is in the interests of a child’s welfare.” The court said Prince isn’t supposed to be a landmark case for state intervention when a child’s health is at stake, but it is a dangerous precedent.
So is this British case. The euthanasia of an infant child against his parents’ wishes is a warning against allowing the trifecta of court-arranged family life, legal usurpation of increasing power, and bureaucratized health care to expand.