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Power and the death of the innocent

I have hesitated thus far to comment on the Charlie Gard case, partly because of acedia. Also, though, because I feared that anything I would say about the difference between ordinary and extraordinary care and about the greater evil of killing people by withholding ordinary care and by active euthanasia would be taken amiss as expressing approval of the UK government's actions in this case. Since in this case they are insisting on withdrawing ventilator support, which I believe is extraordinary care, I hesitate to use terms like "killing" the child, for if it were "killing" here, then it would be killing even when parents consent or other relatives consent to withdrawing ventilator support. It's important for pro-lifers to maintain the ordinary/extraordinary distinction. But at the same time, I am actually heartened even in the midst of this situation by the outrage of so many at the wickedly high-handed behavior of the British government. After all, the parents have raised the money to take Charlie to the United States; the government simply won't let him go. They think they know what is best for him, which is that he should be allowed to die. And that is chilling.

In the midst of my hesitation, I saw today a post by a Facebook friend on the subject (though it starts with a different case) and got permission to post it, though anonymously. Though I haven't researched the Italian case he starts with, I fully believe it. It's too typical. My only quibble is with the word "killed" in the final sentence. But there is so much truth here about the lust for power that I decided to let him write most of my blog post on this subject.

In the late 1980s, an Italian couple adopted an abandoned little girl and her brother from the Philippines. The state of Filipino bureaucracy being what it was, the adoptive father found it necessary to note, on a Filipino customs form, that he was the little girl’s natural father. She lived happily and thrived with her new family for two years, until the falsification on the form was somehow brought to the attention of Italian authorities.

So the authorities took her away. They separated little four-year old Serena Cruz from her family — the only family, at that point, she knew and remembered — on the grounds that the authority of the state must be upheld and preserved. It was not a temporary separation: the long-since-finalized adoption was undone, the family sundered, and the little girl cast into the cruel uncertainties of the Italian foster system. One might assume the logic of the thing would have further mandated her return to the Philippines, but this would contradict the brutal solipsism of the authoritarian mindset.

The suffering of a child, the agony of a family, the deliberate destruction of the bonds of love, is nothing next to the power and dread majesty of the state. One might recall that Dostoevsky has Ivan pose the question directly to Alyosha:

"Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature—that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance—and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth.”
Alyosha replies: "No, I wouldn't consent.”

The modern state — and especially the “progressive” version, suffused with puritan certitude and preening righteousness — answers, “Yes, without question.” It will sacrifice that child to advance the eschaton as surely as an Aztec priest would sacrifice a child to Tlaloc for the precise same end.

And that is why little Charlie Gard is killed today.

Let us not forget, too, the sorrow of another set of parents and the equal arrogance of doctors and judges, the Puritan certitude, and the direct, violent killing that took place seventeen years ago in the case of conjoined twins Jodi and Mary. The British state insisted then on directly killing Mary by surgery rather than allow the girls' parents to depart in peace and take them back to Malta. Once the separation was performed, the parents were given one dead baby and one living baby and allowed to go home.

Or the case of David Glass in 1998 who was almost killed directly by a heroin (diamorphine) IV by the British medical profession and was saved only by the literal physical intervention of his family. He went on to live for several more years.

Since the culture of death adamantly denies the distinction between ordinary and extraordinary care, and since medical kidnap is occurring in the U.S. (as in the Justina Pelletier case), it is as inevitable as anything political can be that eventually a minor child will be removed from his parents' or guardians' custody for their insistence that he receive food and water and that he will be dehydrated to death by the state. It may have happened already without my having heard of it. And once active euthanasia of minors becomes legal in the U.S. as it already is in Belgium, that, too, will be done "in the child's best interests" while grieving parents stand by. I fear it is only a matter of time.

So let us mourn with the parents of Charlie Gard, a victim of the overweening hubris of the managerial state, and let us not tell ourselves, "It can't happen here" or even "At least it isn't worse."

Comments (26)

People fleeing a country to the U. S. are, often, granted refugee status if they have reasonable grounds to fear being put to death should they return to their native country. The Gards could have sought asylum for Charlie in the U. S. for that reason. I am sure that the request would have been denied, but it would have brought this issue to the fore. The State did not bring this child into the world and since he has committed no crime warranting death, they have no right to take him out of this world. The State is given authority by God in a limited fashion. They have far exceeded it in this case. Perhaps the treatment in the U. S. would not have worked, but treatment does not become extraordinary simply because it is experimental. It becomes extraordinary, in part, when it becomes futile. That was not known in this case. At the very least, if the experimental treatment has not worked, the parents could have surrendered to the inevitable with peace. This is a sin against hope. This is a sin against the Natural Order, that gives parents a privileged position in guarding the life of their children (nice of the British government to, essentially, call the parents incompetent). This is a sin against justice.

What do you expect from most modern governments, who have sold their birthright of righteousness for a bowl of pleasure and perversity?

Perhaps, if the birth rate were higher in England, so that more people were parents, there might have been a better reckoning for Charlie. The British government has opted to play the role of parent in this situation. I pity the children who have to live under their house.

The Chicken

In their house...

The Chicken


Excellent comment.


That was a great post from your friend. What I have found particularly exasperating (and depressing) is the Vatican's response, nicely summarized and condemned in this post:


When one of the most reliable pro-life institutions in the world starts to become muddled on this subject, we are in for some troubled times.

The Vatican is able *only* to see the fact that it would not have been intrinsically immoral for the parents to have *agreed* to have Charlie removed from a ventilator. Moreover, the people who wrote the statement clearly think that's what *they* would have done in the parents' place and hence that that is what the parents *should* have done. That's all they can see. They are completely blinkered to the totalitarian aspects of this and to the fact that Charlie is being treated as a creature of the state. But then, if I may say so, the Vatican has *always* been rather muddled on issues like parents' rights, international "treaties" that make government the guarantor of a whole zoo of "child's rights," and in general the dangers of totalitarian, centralized government. Putting it crassly, the Vatican is a European institution, and Europeans by and large don't grok the dangers of centralized government. They kinda like it and usually think the more the merrier for guaranteeing justice and human rights.

Viscerally, I still feel shocked that such a thing can happen in a place like the UK. Mentally, I don't know why these things shock me any more. I also don't know quite what language to use to describe the high-handed evil of the rulers of European nations. The word "totalitarian" makes one think of Gulags, which is not really what we are dealing with here. But all the same, this is totalitarian: it is not an old-style tyranny, where the ruler kills only where he feels threatened, or to appease a scapegoat-hungry mob. It is precisely the horrifically mundane intrusion of government simply on the principle that it governs the totality of the lives within its domain. I don't know if that means the Gulags are not far off, or if this is just a less voracious kind of totalitarianism settling in.

"The Vatican", like almost any western bureaucracy in the world today, has been for a long time been largely in the hands of liberals - although in this case it is a strange mix of theological liberals and politico-philosophical liberals. They inhabit the committees and bureaus and secretariats and Congregations, and bring in their fellow-travelers whenever they can. During the pontificates of JPII and Benedict, these were more or less kept in check by the usually good, sometimes excellent archbishops and cardinals appointed at the top. But only more or less.

Sadly, one can see more clearly than ever that this constituted a grave failure of the executive leadership, not to clean house of the rats and roaches that they must have known were there. There can be little excuse for a great many elevations of the kinds of men who, in the 1960s and 70s, were not-exactly-orthodox in their Catholic thinking to positions of authority. There can be no excuse at all at the elevations of men like Archbishop Weakland, Cardinal Mahoney, and Cardinal Kasper, men who have poisoned whatever they touch.

The Vatican equivalent to the "foreign service", i.e. the diplomatic corp, is actually worse than many other groups, because they have been infected by the internationalist, cosmopolitanesque view of Brussels and the Hague, that unelected global-reach "government" is what's good for the world. Even Benedict was smitten with the disease, to some extent. But it somewhat surprises me (though not so much, under Francis), that the Pontifical Academy for Life would bow and scrape to a government apparatchik decision against life. Granted, they may not often go outside their own field to read things like the Vatican's own documents on the nature of the family, or canon law on the family, but you would think that someone might have just said "we don't really need to comment on that publicly."

And it's only going to get worse.

Viscerally, I still feel shocked that such a thing can happen in a place like the UK.

Christopher, I'm curious: Did you know about the conjoined twin case back in 2000 that I mention in the main post?

I ask, because once that happened, this kind of thing was obviously going to happen. Indeed, it's not clear which is a step "worse" and which is "not as bad." In the conjoined twin case, the doctors insisted on literally performing surgery that directly killed the twin that did not have a heart within her own body. And it must have been skilled, expensive surgery, too. It would have even made more sense from the perspective of socialized medicine to let the parents and the twins go. The arrogance was there, as well. The judge referred to the twin whom they killed as sucking out the life of her sister, etc. The mother sobbed something like, "You do not know. You have not seen."

That case was after the Internet but before social media. So a lot of people in 2017 have not heard of it. But I'm just not at all surprised at the Charlie Gard case, because it is more of the same.

The attempt to kill David Glass with diamorphine was a more obscure one and happened when the Internet was slower and more primitive yet (in 1998). Almost no one knows about that. And then there are the elderly killed, sometimes against their families' wishes, by the Liverpool Care Pathway in the hospitals of England. So this murderous bureaucratic certainty is now pretty much par for the course in that island nation.

No, I didn't. That case I find less shocking because I can at least understand the reasoning, "If we don't save one, both will die," and the notion that we have an obligation to save a life if we can, even over the objection of the parents, is not inherently totalitarian. In the Gard case, the intrusiveness of the state has no prima facie justification.

In the one case it is active killing using a knife. In the other case it is withdrawing a ventilator, something the parents would (fairly uncontroversially) be justified in agreeing to.

Right, it's not that withdrawing the ventilator was a heinous immoral act. It's that it is in defiance of the determination of the parents, who are presumed to be the authorities on the best interest of the child, absent a showing of actual criminal abuse or neglect. The state's deciding to overrule the parents on the best interest of the child without finding that the parents have abused their authority is positively criminal, and totalitarian. The judge:

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. The Great Ormond Street Hospital has made an application and it is my duty to rule on it, given that the parents and the hospital cannot agree on the best way forward.

Did he simply not notice that the court needed a reason to decide NOT to simply accept the parents' decisions? The fact that the Hospital asked for it is not a reason to set the parents aside, it is a reason only to ask whether the parents have abused their authority. They haven't and no sane person thinks they have.

The other half of the horror, of course, is that the actual rationale of the state decision is just not a compelling one. That Charlie Gard may suffer if he undergoes the treatment is plausible, though there is conflicting information on it. That he will not achieve a long-term gain beyond just surviving a few more months is probable, even very probable. But neither of these present overwhelming reasons to deny the treatment: the prolongation of life for a few months, with some pain, is not somehow unconscionable and "not to be tolerated" by a civilized society, for crying out loud. Nobody is claiming the pain would amount to torture, for example.

To me, it looks like the court's decision is equivalent to saying that if you can't do anything worthwhile during your extra 6 months, then merely living for the 6 months is not a gain, there's no benefit to a person for just being alive. It's the secular humanist utilitarianism all over again.

Does anyone think that this would have happened if the parents were rich?

The Chicken

MC, if you are referring to the Charlie Gard case, the parents have raised 1.7 million pounds from private donors to pay for bringing Charlie here for treatment. So in that regard, they *are* "rich" -- i.e., they can pay what is necessary. This appears to be a power play, pure and simple. "We own your children."

Good post. Thanks for pointing out that the real issue is violating the parents' authority and not the decision to take Charlie off the ventilator per se.

Aquinas has a nice turn of phrase for cases like this:

"If . . . a thing is, of itself, contrary to the natural law, the human will cannot make it just." Aquinas

Does anyone think that this would have happened if the parents were rich?

Yes, I do think it would have happened. Unless Charlie had just ended up in the first place in a hospital that thought differently. But the problem is the ideology, not the wealth of the parents or lack thereof, and I truly believe that these doctors at this hospital would have believed the same thing about what they "need to" do in Charlie's case, whether the parents were rich or poor.

I don't know. They are in this position because they were of modest means when they entered the hospital and the doctors were in a position of superiority. A truly rich person would have had a cadre of lawyers and doctors bearing down the throats of the original doctors and hospital (heck, they could have bought the hospital), but even then, they would have had the means for private healthcare at some exclusive clinic at the first whiff of resistance by the hospital doctors and they could have left before things escalated.

One can only become a victim of the system if one gets trapped by the system and rich people (the super rich, at any rate) have a lot more avenues of escape than the poor.

In any case, we will never know how things would have played out in this alternate universe. I think one of the best deterrents against bad behavior would have been for God to invent an alternate universe filled with doppelgängers that we could run experiments on for possible behavior and then re-set for the next batch of experiments. I suppose the history of this universe is filled with such experiments to learn from (St. Paul says as much), but I wish we had a spare universe so we didn't have to hurt ourselves in the process :)

The Chicken

" I think one of the best deterrents against bad behavior would have been for God to invent an alternate universe filled with doppelgängers that we could run experiments on for possible behavior and then re-set for the next batch of experiments."

That's why I have an identical twin.

I don't know. They are in this position because they were of modest means when they entered the hospital and the doctors were in a position of superiority. A truly rich person would have had a cadre of lawyers and doctors bearing down the throats of the original doctors and hospital (heck, they could have bought the hospital), but even then, they would have had the means for private healthcare at some exclusive clinic at the first whiff of resistance by the hospital doctors and they could have left before things escalated.

One can only become a victim of the system if one gets trapped by the system and rich people (the super rich, at any rate) have a lot more avenues of escape than the poor.

Well, I realize that this is all guesswork, and as a rule of thumb I agree that it's easier for the super-rich to avoid being trapped by the system. But I think even a super-rich family would have had to guess ahead of time that this particular hospital would make this decision and would have had to know not to go there in the first place when they realized how sick their baby was. And of course would have had to have an alternative place of medical care with *different ethics*. And merely being swanky or private doesn't automatically guarantee different ethics.

Let's remember that Boston Children's Hospital here in the U.S. has engaged in "medical kidnap" (I believe in more than one case) in areas that don't really have anything to do with how much money the people involved have. They just decided that, for example, Justina Pelletier had a psychological disorder rather than a physical disorder and got Child Protective Services to cooperate in giving them the right to keep her.

Hospitals in the U.S. have called CPS because parents refused (even just temporarily) to have their babies vaccinated when less than two days old for illnesses to which they were not going to be immediately exposed.

In general I think that the issue here is the increasing sense that medical authorities must have *power over children* beyond that of parents. This isn't in itself a rich-poor thing. Indeed, some doctors might be especially determined to show that they are going to exercise their "principles" over the children of anyone. The medical people have their ideas of ethics and the idea that anyone who doesn't cooperate is ipso facto abusing his child. If this were true, it obviously *should* apply regardless of the wealth of the "abusive" parents. I think we will find increasingly, and already do find in countries like England, that the medical authorities apply this logic pretty consistently: We are obligated to do what is best for your child, seizing them from you if necessary when you bring them into the hospital or when they are born in the hospital or when you bring them to the doctor. We will do this across the board, whether you are rich or poor.

Unless we get some hefty law or SC decision in place explicitly protecting parental rights, this is only going to continue getting worse. The "medical kidnap" (great term!) is following in the footsteps of educational kidnap (which Germany and Sweden have exhibited for us in the harsher form, while it goes on in milder form by the millions elsewhere), and of course the standard CPS kidnap where a CPS worker simply asserts her own values for the parents' values, because she thinks that the law gives her exactly that authority.

I've just run across an article that makes an excellent point: Since this legal case has been dragging on for so long, the hospital could probably have achieved its alleged goal of Charlie's being taken off the ventilator sooner by not litigating it and letting his parents take him out of the country. For if the parents were convinced that the treatment they want to seek were not working (and the hospital is sure it won't work), then they would *agree* to have him taken off the ventilator. Plus, no abrogation of parental rights. And this would probably have happened sooner if the hospital had just compromised and let them go already. A win-win situation one would think. If ventilator life support is supposedly causing suffering (which is one of the claims), why not let his parents move through their treatment attempt sooner to get them sooner to a point of accepting taking him off of the ventilator? That just emphasizes the fact that this is really about power and turf rights, not about what's best for Charlie.


I made almost the exact point, Lydia, over at Fr Z.'s blog (long, passionate comments by many). The doctors are to blame because there was no reason to litigate this to begin with. Letting the parents try this one last thing would not have hurt them and given the parents peace. I think that if Charlie could express an opinion, he would want that peace for his parents. The doctors should be forced to write the Fourth Commandment ten thousand times. The notion that a child has autonomy from its parents, so may be treated in isolation is, except in rare circumstances, silly. Such is the ethical education of doctors, today.

A friend of mine teaches medical ethics in a medical school and she is no impressed by what medical students bring to the table. This is like giving a loaded gun to a person with a seizure disorder - you never know when it is going to go off.

The Chicken

Michael Brown says here that the court documents indicate that the court would consider it a net loss if Charlie actually received benefit from the treatment, because then his *life* would continue, and the court regards his life as a burden in itself. He gives a quote that seems to support this interpretation, though I haven't read the relevant documents at length.

“There is significant harm if what the parents want for Charlie comes into effect,” according to hospital legal team member Katie Gollop. “The significant harm is a condition of existence which is offering the child no benefit.” And, she added, “It is inhuman to permit that condition to continue.


The indications from this story are that there is significant bias against Charlie because of the hospital's beliefs about his brain damage.


This raises the chilling question: What will/would the hospital do if he proves able to breathe on his own after all?

It's all of the same piece: quality of life is defined in terms of conscious human beings actually enjoying life. If there is no prospect of things getting "better" to the point that the person will be conscious AND enjoying himself, there is "no benefit" to his continued life.

Consent goes out the window: geriatrics who are suffering and who cannot be made comfortable will be forcibly killed because there is "no benefit". It simply is completely irrelevant whether they WANT to continue living with their suffering: the "system" is using resources on them, so it's the system's decision to begin with. And anyway, they are merely ill-informed about their own best interests, because by definition anyone who is well-informed about their best interest knows that life in pain is "no benefit".

It is only a small step (and certainly one that some people will take) to say that very young babies as such gain no benefit from their lives, since they are not conscious "enough" and are not enjoying life "enough" to account for their discomforts: just listen to their crying, and you can tell they are in a lot of pain. So the quaint "prospect" that they will eventually get advanced "enough" to be self aware and to enjoy life "enough" is simply irrelevant: there is no principled reason to prefer that future existence over this current one for making the decision being made now. A fortiori the same result applies to all ill babies.

Tony, you're sounding very Peter Singer-esque today. But that, scarry as it is, isn't the worst part. I worry that you might be right in speculating how things will get worse.

Sean, I was about to say that thinking like that makes me ill, but then I remembered that saying that could get the medical police after me to see if my quality of life is too low to justify sustaining me. So, forget it.

Ain't that cheerful?

I have only just discovered your website so apologies for the late comment.

I have to say your view of the 'british government' in this post is unfair. And Im speaking as a Brit.

It was not the government but the Courts which had the ultimate say on the matter. There is good reason why politics and the law in such cases are kept separate.

The Courts relied on expert medical testimony to come to their conclusions. Of course experts in any field can disagree, but that is not the Courts' fault.

The medical opinion believed that little baby was suffering, and as he was being kept alive artificially with no serious prospect of improving, it was not appropriate to continue.

The medical opinion was that to move him to the US would have resulted in further suffering.

I have every sympathy for the parents who had to go through such a terrible ordeal, and I fully understand their wanting to keep their child alive, but I came away with the impression this was more to do with them rather than their child. There just seemed to be a mind-set of 'we have to keep him alive, regardless'. Again I understand that, but was that in the child's best interests?

From a Christian point of view, Charlie is now with the Lord in glory and his suffering has ended forever.

Such cases are always very difficult for all concerned, but I dont think it is appropriate to take the view that only the extension of life is all that matters.

I completely disagree. At the most, the court could have taken expert testimony as to whether Charlie's current life support was literally torturous for him. At the most. As has been pointed out in this post, his parents would have become more willing to have him removed from that life support if they had been allowed to take him abroad, and his ordeal, if such it was, would have thus ended earlier!

The court was by no means obligated to *enforce* upon the parents and Charlie an opinion that his life was a burden and that continued life support was, in some broad sense, not in his best interests. The court used the *power* of the state--and that is state power, whether you like my pointing it out or not--to enforce an ideological view, not merely to apply an objective medical fact in a value-neutral fashion. That was wrong. It was a wrongful use of power.

And if you actually read my post (which I tend to doubt, given much of the content of your comment), you would know that I do not hold that "only the extension of life is all that matters." Indeed, I expressly made it clear that that is not my position.

As far as the use of the word "government" vs. "courts," I'm sorry, but that is pedantry. My use of "government" was meant to encompass the courts--in other words, I was speaking of the use of the coercive power of the state, broadly conceived. Now that we have that purely terminological point cleared up, however, I kind of doubt that you will rescind your criticisms of the post.

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