An end to the Charlie Gard case

For anyone who has been following the Charlie Gard case in the news, it has been an eventful few months which has demonstrated the efficacy of the court system and the perils that judges face in such cases.

The background

Charlie Gard was born with a rare genetic condition, which has progressively worsened. The 11-month old baby is now non-responsive and dependant entirely upon a ventilator to keep him alive.  This tragic story hit the headlines when Charlie’s parents became aware of an experimental treatment in America that had the potential to save Charlie.  A fundraising page was set up and over £1.3 million raised to fund his travel and treatment.

Great Ormond Street Hospital, however, objected to this. They said that the best course of treatment was to allow Charlie to die with dignity by taking him off the ventilator and providing only palliative case.  The reason why they did not support his parents’ wishes for treatment in America is that the treatment is, as the High Court judge described it, ‘futile at best’.  The treatment proposed has not been used for Charlie’s type of disease, nor has it ever been trialled for the disease.  It was therefore only theoretically a possibility, and one that even the American Doctor who first offered to undertake the treatment later declared he was unsure of.

The judgments

Appeal Process
The appeal process and courts involved in Charlie’s case

With a heavy heart and full sympathy for the parents, the first instance High Court judge ruled that it was in Charlie’s best interests to stop the life-sustaining treatment and provide palliative care to allow Charlie to die with dignity.

Within just over one month, the parents had launched an appeal and the Court of Appeal upheld the reasoning of the High Court. Again, the parents sought permission to appeal to the Supreme Court who on Thursday 8th June refused that permission because the case did not raise an arguable point of law of general importance.  This is because, although a profoundly sad and delicate case, the law itself is not disputed – the test is what is in Charlie’s best interests and that was the test that the High Court and the Court of Appeal applied.

Having exhausted domestic appeal routes (ie within the courts of England and Wales), Charlie’s parents sought an appeal at the European Court of Human Rights. The Court in Strasbourg refused to intervene, saying it was likely that Charlie was to continue being exposed to pain and suffering.

How has the case come to an end?

Following new evidence from America, Justice Francis (in the High Court) was due to re-assess the case and make a judgment later this week, but yesterday Charlie’s parents ended their legal battle and said that it was too late for the treatment to have any positive impact. They are now preparing for Charlie’s life-support to be switched off.

For students who will be studying LW6009 Medical Law and Ethics next academic year, this case will be fundamental in their understanding of consent and the ‘best interests’ test applied by the Courts in cases involving treatment and end of life.

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