Baby Charlie Gard's parents expressed concern that the attorney appointed to represent them in court is affiliated with a "Death with Dignity" organization, in what appears to be an ideological conflict of interest.
The Telegraph reported Monday that the sick child's parents, Connie Yates and Chris Gard, are shocked that lawyer Victoria Butler Cole, who was named for them by the publicly-funded British government body Cafcass, chairs the Board of Trustees for the charity Compassion in Dying. CiD does not promote assisted suicide but is a sister organization of Dignity in Dying which does. Dignity in Dying used to be known as the Voluntary Euthanasia Society and the group leads campaigns to legalize assisted suicide in the United Kingdom.
"The family find it astonishing that the quango that appointed the barrister to act in the interests of Charlie Gard is the chairman of Compassion in Dying ... The implication is obvious. It looks like a profound conflict of interest," a source close to the Gard family told the Telegraph.
Yet a spokesmen for CiD maintained in a statement that "clear differences" exist between their work and that of Dignity in Dying, and that the Charlie Gard case "is about making decisions in the best interests of a seriously ill child."
Several European courts, including the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, upheld London's Great Ormond Street Hospital's decision to remove life support from the sick child against the wishes of his parents, saying that it was in Charlie's best interest to die since nothing else could be done for him medically. Yet amid an international outcry, the hospital asked for another court hearing last week in light of new evidence showing that nucleoside bypass therapy — the treatment the parents had wanted to try and had crowdfunded over $1.5 million to pay for — could indeed help the child.
Dr. Michio Hirano, a neurosurgeon and co-director of the North American Mitochondrial Disease Consortium and Chief of the Neuromuscular Division at Columbia University, flew to London to examine Charlie Gard this week. The judge invited him to do so after Hirano testified in court Thursday court via a video interview that he believes that Charlie has "an 11% to 56% chance of clinically meaningful improvement," if he receives the experimental therapy, according to the Mirror. Such treatment has proven effective in other children with similar yet less severe conditions.
The case of the 11-month-old boy with a rare mitochondrial depletion syndrome has garnered global attention in large part because of the implications it has for the rights of parents to determine the best course of medical care for their children.
The child's plight has generated widespread support, with such famous figures as President Donald Trump, Pope Francis, and singer Cher voicing their thoughts on Twitter, all siding with Gard's parents.
TIME noted Friday that socially conservative organizations, especially pro-life groups, have made a deep impact on the case with their advocacy for the boy's life. At a July 6 press conference at the National Press Club, several leaders noted that the heavy hand of the state was quashing the parents' fundamental rights and appealed to the government to reconsider.
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"Who do we think we are [to] decide who gets to live and who doesn't, whose life is valuable and whose is not?" said Penny Nance, CEO and president of Concerned Women for America, at the event. "This is way above our pay grade. This is a matter for God."
Gawain Towler, the Gard family's publicist, said that the July 13 hearing "would not have happened" without supporters from overseas pressuring the British government to change course.
"The judge has said he won't be affected by [social media], but this is common law, and public opinion matters in common law," he said.
"To ignore public opinion is counter to everything our legal system stands for."