European Human Rights Court Says Baby on Life Support Must Die, Parents Call Decision 'Heartless'

A European high court has ruled against a British couple who've asked that life support not be removed from their infant son, a move they and others are criticizing as a violation of their parental rights.

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, refused to intervene in the case this week, upholding earlier decisions by lower courts to allow London's Great Ormond Street Hospital to remove life support from Charlie Gard, a 10-month-old who suffers from mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome. The hospital has said they can do nothing more for him and that so-called death with dignity was the only option, The Daily Mail reported Thursday.

Gard's parents, Chris Gard and Connie Yates, have maintained that an experimental treatment for his condition is available in the United States — for which they raised $1.6 million through a crowdfunding campaign — and called the decision "heartless." 

The couple had also been exploring palliative care options and their "final wish" was to take their son home, but that was also blocked. They were told that Charlie's life support will be removed on Friday. In a Facebook group the parents started for their supporters called "Charlie's Army" Gard and Yates said they were "heartbroken."

"We and most importantly Charlie have been massively let down throughout this whole process," the post read. "Charlie will die tomorrow knowing that he was loved by thousands ... thank you to everyone for all your support!"

Gard further explained in a video for the Daily Mail: "We want to give him a bath at home, put him in a cot which he has never slept in but we are now being denied that. We know what day our son is going to die but don't get a say in how that will happen."

"Our parental rights have been stripped away. We can't even take our own son home to die."

The hospital also reportedly denied the parents the right to a hospice arrangement.

Across the Atlantic, conservative critics have similarly decried the decision, calling it a bad precedent that grants the state power over the rights of parents to act in the best interest of their own children.

"The precedent established by Charlie Gard's case will metastasize as similar decisions have," Ian Tuttle of the National Review wrote Thursday.

"It will be made to apply to children with more-familiar illnesses and better prognoses; it will be used to dismiss the input of parents whose values and priorities when it comes to medical care and end-of-life issues do not align with those of the state; it may be used simply to clear beds for 'worthier' patients in a healthcare system with very limited resources."

All of this will presumably be done under the guise of "compassionate" care, he said.

The judge presiding over the case in the High Court's Family Division, Justice Nicholas Francis, who penned the decision that was upheld by the higher courts, wrote that death was "in Charlie's best interests." No "scientific basis" exists that he would respond positively to the experimental American treatment, he said, citing "unanimity among the experts" who maintain such therapy "cannot reverse structural brain damage." Charlie would be no better off, the judge concluded.

Melissa Moschella, a Catholic University of America philosophy professor and author of the book To Whom Do Children Belong? Parental Rights, Civic Education, and Children's Autonomy told Catholic News Agency last week that the government's interference in this case was "completely wrongheaded."

"It's not crazy, it's not abusive, it's not neglectful. It's the decision of parents who want to, however they can, to give their very sick child a chance for life," she said.

Such a decision amounts to "telling the parents that their child's life has no value and that therefore they should cease any effort to heal him of his disease," Moschella said, noting this is the same mindset that underpins physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia.

She further noted that only "when there is a clear case of abuse or neglect or some significant threat to the public order" should government intervention against the wishes of parents be utilized.

"Neither of those situations is the case here."