"If the church fails to apply the central truth of Christianity to social problems correctly, someone else will do so incorrectly.” Carl F.H. Henry

One Important Point on the Ethics of Parental Rights in the Charlie Gard Case

In the aftermath of the tragedy that is the story of Charlie Gard, it brought to attention pressing debates about parental rights versus the state’s rights over children. It’s a debate worth having.

In some of those back-and-forths, I heard conversations like, “Well, what about the child of Jehovah Witnesses? If what stood between that child and death was a blood transfusion, would it be right for the state to override the will of the parents?” (Jehovah Witnesses object to blood transfusions on religious grounds).

First, it is a reasonable debate to have concerning the compelling interest the state would have in this situation to override parents, which would be to preserve life.

Second, it’s a category distinction from the Charlie Gard case altogether. While parental rights are at stake in both, the outcomes are altogether different, which dictate what legitimacy the state may have to intervene. The Charlie Gard case was not one where the parents’ decision would result in intended death. The state’s decision, however, would bring death about by intent.

In a question of whether the state should intervene in a parent’s decision to keep their child alive, the state should cede control to the parent in the interest of preserving life (especially where last resort measures have not been accessed). In a question of whether the state should prevent death in the hypothetical situation like the one above involving a Jehovah Witness, the state has a much stronger argument in preserving life.

All that to say, we need to be clear about the facts of the case. Charlie Gard’s parents wished to keep him alive by the possibility of exploratory medicine. That is altogether separate from the question of what role the state has to play in preventing death or severe harm when an outcome would result from parents’ decision-making.