The Businesslike Death of Charlie Gard

For a moment he was businesslike. “Look acrost the river, Lennie, an’ I’ll tell you so you can almost see it.” Lennie turned his head and looked off across the pool and up the darkening slopes of the Gabilans. “We gonna get a little place,” George began. He reached in his side pocket and brought out Carlson’s Luger; he snapped off the safety, and the hand and gun lay on the ground behind Lennie’s back. He looked at the back of Lennie’s head, at the place where the spine and skull were joined.

“Businesslike” is the term Steinbeck used in Of Mice and Men to describe George before he euthanizes Lennie, for euthanasia is always businesslike. It must be in order to avoid the alarm and antipathy that its act naturally causes. Yes, George’s “mercy killing” saved Lennie from a terrible, painful death. Yes, discontinuing extraordinary medical procedures can be legitimate according to the Catechism (CCC.2278). But why be torn by such philosophical and spiritual dilemmas when a good lawyer, a watertight policy, and an impersonal business protocol can eliminate the issue altogether? It is too complicated to be human when dealing with human beings, and when human death is what is being dealt, a businesslike manner is always necessary. The businesslike death of 11-month-old Charlie Gard on July 28 was a dramatic, international horror forewarning that society (the term “civilization” is getting harder to justify) is committing itself contractually to walk in the valley of the shadow of death in a businesslike manner.

Charlie Gard was born in London on August 4, 2016, and at two months he was having trouble breathing. His parents, Chris Gard and Connie Yates, brought their ailing infant to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children where Charlie was diagnosed with mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome, a rare genetic disease causing progressive brain damage, muscular deterioration, and motor skill loss. As his condition rapidly advanced, the baby became so weak that he could neither move nor breathe. Charlie was put on a ventilator while his grieving parents desperately sought to find some way to save their son. Their research led to Dr. Michio Hirano, a professor of neurology at Columbia University in New York, who was testing experimental treatments for neuromuscular disorders. Dr. Hirano agreed to consider Charlie’s case, and Gard and Yates ran a successful crowdfund campaign to cover the costs.

It was then that the hospital interjected. In businesslike fashion, the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children stated its expert opinion and official position that such investigational treatments were not in the patient’s best interests. The hospital with its doctors and clinicians and analysts and specialists decided that, given Charlie Gard’s current condition, he would never recover and that the procedures proposed would not provide any short-term, let alone long-term, benefits. Charlie’s parents disagreed. The hospital further indicated their professional determination to withdraw the child’s life-support apparatus. Charlie’s parents refused. A lawsuit was filed. A court case commenced. The business of Charlie Gard’s life and death was considered by a judge as a legal question. With businesslike lawfulness, the High Court ruled that it was better that one baby should die than the agenda perish. The European Court of Human Rights approved. The British Supreme Court upheld. The Prime Minister concurred. Charlie Gard, found guilty of living an inconveniently fragile life, was sentenced to death and denied permission to be transferred to another hospital. His parents fought. The Pope and the US President made appeals. The world looked on with twin faces of disbelief and dispassion.

 

After a final attempt made available by a court allowance to consider new evidence for potential treatment, Dr. Hirano flew to London to examine the baby only to find his disorder too advanced for treatment. As his parents undertook a new struggle for the revoked privilege of taking their own son home to die, little Charlie Gard was disconnected from the ventilator that kept him alive and died on July 28. Though emotions, reactions, and arguments over the case swept and swirled like wildfire, all the i’s were dotted and all the t’s crossed. Charlie Gard died a businesslike death despite all the outrage, and, sometimes, Steinbeck tells us, that is just the way things have to go.

He went over and looked down at Lennie, and then he looked back at George. “Right in the back of the head,” he said softly. Slim came directly to George and sat down beside him, sat very close to him. “Never you mind,” said Slim. “A guy got to sometimes.”

Charlie Gard was a victim of a prevailing mindset that death can be, and sometimes must be, a means to make life more convenient for the global population. Even murder can be arranged so long as there is enough standard business procedure to account for it. Legal murder must be businesslike, or else it would just be murder—and illegal. In the case of Charlie Gard, the British Courts and the Great Ormond Street Hospital completed all the paperwork and the cost analyses and the statistical studies that gave them the power to claim moral superiority, and to dismiss the hysterics of two parents in a difficult situation that prevented them from being reasonable. Even death is reasonable, whether by abortion, euthanasia, or assisted suicide, so long as the proper attitude is taken and the right approach incorporated. Such is the businesslike manner of individualistic, secular, modernism, as it reveres the legacy of Margaret Sanger, praises the career of Jack Kevorkian (aka Dr. Death), brushes aside the killing of Terri Schiavo, and obfuscates the fetal organ harvesting operations of Planned Parenthood. The day and age is returning when the government dictates bioethics in cold, businesslike terms of death-on-demand and till-death-do-we-part totalitarianism.

That businesslike veneer of peace and progress is the sinister solution when fundamental parental interests are overruled, when the powers of state intercede to dole out life and death to its citizens as it sees fit (especially when the government is picking of the medical tab), and, of course, when the whole world is watching. Charlie Gard’s death was businesslike, making it a harbinger of the ever-advancing culture of death that Pope St. John Paul II warned the Church of. It is a bad business that relegates parental rights and human rights to definition by the law and to being subject to the discretion of the law. Religion, race, politics, and the rest of the things that divide people aside, there is at work a re-visioning of what it means to be human that all human beings should resist and resist together. Meanwhile, that bland businesslike manner continues to manipulate the truth and the travesty of deaths like Charlie Gard’s to prevent too much disturbance to the false foundation of benevolent, humanitarian relativism that keeps a godless, gutless society from tearing itself to pieces overtly.

Charlie Gard was baptized into the Catholic Church less than a week before he died. Surely, he is in heaven now with the glorious crown reserved for the Holy Innocents who were slaughtered by those who sought to prevent the Kingdom of Life by unleashing death. May Charlie Gard pray for us, and pray for his parents, and pray that this world might be redeemed that did him to death with businesslike rationalization. For, though modernity continues to labor and lunge in the traces it has chosen, Scripture has pronounced already what the wages of sin shall be. And, though terrible to imagine, the last judgment of the dogged businessmen of death might reflect another thread in Steinbeck’s pathetic tale:

“This ol’ dog jus’ suffers hisself all the time. If you was to take him out and shoot him right in the back of the head-” he leaned over and pointed, “-right there, why he’d never know what hit him.”

Sean Fitzpatrick

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Sean Fitzpatrick is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and the Headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy. He lives in Scranton, PA with his wife and family of four.

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