Pope calls for respecting parents' wishes to care for dying child

IMAGE: CNS/family handout, courtesy Featureworld

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis called for respecting
the wishes of a terminally ill child’s parents to accompany and care for their
child “until the end.”

Greg Burke, Vatican spokesman, said the pope was
following “with affection and emotion” the events concerning Charlie
Gard, a 10-month-old infant born in England with mitochondrial DNA depletion
syndrome, which causes progressive muscle weakness, brain damage and
respiratory or liver failure; it is typically fatal.

Expressing his closeness to the parents, Pope Francis said
he was “praying for them, hoping that their desire to accompany and take
care of their own baby until the end is not disregarded,” Burke’s written statement
said in Italian July 2.

In London, Charlie’s parents, Chris Gard and Connie Yates,
crowdfunded nearly $1.7 million in four months to finance having the baby
treated in the United States. However, when hospital officials wanted to stop
providing life support for the baby, the parents went to a London court with
their case, but the court ruled the baby should be allowed to “die with
dignity” and doctors could stop providing life support. Further court
actions, including a decision by the European Court of Human Rights June 27, upheld
the ruling.

The parents’ continued request to the hospital was to
allow them to take Charlie home to die. That request has been denied, and the hospital
had said it would be suspending life support June 30 — a date that has since been

The official Twitter account of Pope Francis, @Pontifex,
posted a tweet June 30, “To defend human life, above all when it is
wounded by illness, is a duty of love that God entrusts to all.”

The Pontifical Academy for Life and the Bishops’
Conference of England and Wales extended prayers for Charlie, the medical staff
caring for him and the parents.

Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical
Academy for Life, said the situation of Charlie and his parents “has meant
both pain and hope for all of us,” and he assured them of his prayers.

“We feel close to him, to his mother, his father,
and all those who have cared for him and struggled together with him until
now,” he said in a written statement, dated June 28 and posted online by
Vatican Radio June 29.

The important question to ask in this and other
unfortunately similar cases, he said, is, “What are the best interests of
the patient?”

“We must do what advances the health of the patient,
but we must also accept the limits of medicine,” he said, and, according
to Catholic teaching, “avoid aggressive medical procedures that are
disproportionate to any expected results or excessively burdensome to the
patient or the family.”

However, the wishes of the parents also must be heard and
respected, he said, “but they, too, must be helped to understand the
unique difficulty of their situation and not be left to face their painful
decisions alone.”

If the relationship between patient, guardians and
doctors is “interfered with, everything becomes more difficult, and legal
action becomes a last resort,” the archbishop said.

There is also the “risk of ideological or political
manipulation, which is always to be avoided, or of media sensationalism, which
can be sadly superficial,” he added.

Reacting to the European court ruling, a spokesperson for
the Catholic bishops’ conference said the definitive ruling that “baby
Charlie Gard cannot undergo any further treatment is heartrending, most
particularly for his parents and family.”

“In this difficult case, all sides have sought to
act with integrity and for Charlie’s good as they see it. Understandably,
Charlie’s parents wish to do everything to save and improve Charlie’s life. We
hope and pray that in the wake of this decision, they are able as a family to
find peace over the coming days and weeks. We also encourage the Catholic
community to pray for Charlie, his parents and all those that have been caring
for him.”

“Sadly, prolonged terminal illness is part of the
human condition,” the written statement said. “We should never act
with the deliberate intention to end a human life, including the removal of
nutrition and hydration so that death might be achieved. We do, sometimes,
however, have to recognize the limitations of what can be done, while always
acting humanely in the service of the sick person until the time of natural
death occurs.”

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Follow Glatz on Twitter: @CarolGlatz.

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