The short life of Charlie Gard came to an end on Friday afternoon, July 28 (London time) when the baby, who had become an international cause célèbre, died at a hospice one week shy of his first birthday. A British High Court judge had ordered the move from hospital to hospice, and that Charlie be disconnected from a respirator so that he could die. On Friday evening, Charlie’s mother, Connie Yates, announced that her only child had passed away earlier that afternoon.
As the Telegraph reported at 6:56 PM Friday London time (1:56 PM US EDT), in a dispatch by its chief reporter Robert Mendick:
At just after 6.30 this evening, [Charlie’s] mother, Connie Yates, announced: “Our beautiful little boy has gone.” The breathing tube attached to a ventilator had been removed. He is thought to have died a few minutes later.
Charlie’s story gained major international attention as a result of his parents’ efforts to challenge his British doctors and have their son transferred to New York for innovative experimental therapy at Columbia University Medical Center for his extremely rare and fatal condition, mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome. Since April, Yates and Charlie’s father Chris Gard have been in and out of court battling the London hospital where Charlie had been a patient since he was two months old. Legal rulings, including an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, consistently went against the wishes of the parents.
The British doctors had opposed Charlie’s move to New York since February, claiming that his medical prognosis was hopeless and that he should be allowed to die. The heartbreaking case quickly catapulted to the top domestic news story in England and in recent weeks it has drawn major attention and media coverage in scores of countries around the world, with input in support of the parents coming from Pope Francis and President Donald Trump – all of it to no avail in terms of influencing a different legal outcome.
On Monday of this week, the parents conceded that their battle had come to an end and agreed that Charlie should be allowed to pass on. The final disagreement and unresolved debate with the hospital went on until Thursday afternoon, centering around on how long Connie Yates and Chris Gard would have to say goodbye to Charlie before he was disconnected from life support.
The end came quickly after Mr. Justice Francis decreed Charlie’s move to hospice and disconnection from his ventilator in a terse order dated Wednesday and released by the High Court in London on Thursday. Within 24 hours, Charlie was gone.
The death of baby Charlie does not resolve the difficult issues that were raised during months of legal wrangling. The main disagreement involved who should decide the medical treatment, and the fate, of a sick child – his parents or the state, representing the will of the doctors. In the UK, physicians work for the state where the system of health care delivery is government-controlled, single-payer socialized medicine.
In the United States, with single-payer now being proposed by the leadership of the Democratic Party, and a growing number of voters supporting the system according to public opinion polls, Americans were paying particularly close attention to the Charlie Gard story – many of them not without a feeling of fear and dread for what may be in store for the USA.
Peter Barry Chowka is a veteran journalist who writes about national politics, media, popular culture, and health care. His new Web site is AltMedNews.net. Peter’s July 28, 2017 90-minute long interview on The Hagmann Report in which the Charlie Gard story was discussed at length can be viewed here. Peter’s segment begins 31 minutes into the program.