A young infant named Charlie Gard, who suffers from a terminal condition called mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome (MDS), recently hit the headlines over whether his life support should be turned off by Great Ormond Street Hospital.
More than 350,000 people have signed a petition against a court decision in favour of this. What is the Torah view of Charlie Gard’s predicament?
The outpouring of compassion is certainly part of our tradition. The USA and the Vatican have both offered Charlie citizenship in the hope that he might be allowed to leave the UK to be treated in an American or Papal hospital.
In Judaism, sanctity of life is paramount; any chance to offer the gift of life back to even a brain-damaged child is praiseworthy.
However, it is forbidden to prolong a life of unbearable pain. If it is clear to doctors that a person will only live with interminable suffering, efforts to ward off the inevitable demise should not be administered.
MDS causes the failure of energy supply to the muscles, the kidneys and the brain.
There is no known cure for Charlie’s condition, although experimental treatments exist. British doctors concur there is nothing that can be done.
Nonetheless, per the ruling of Maimonides, if one expert doctor of any
faith thinks there is a chance of survival, one must desecrate even the holy Sabbath day.
Seven doctors worldwide, some of whom have expertise in this condition, should be given a chance to treat Charlie.
Treatment in the US has expressly been offered free of charge and £1.3million has been raised to support it.
The British taxpayer will not have to finance treatment for Charlie with
questionable rates of success.
Is the High Court going to allow for treatment abroad? This is unlikely, after the ruling in 2015 when the Supreme Court refused to accommodate the repatriation home of a terminally-ill child
from this country. May God bless Charlie and comfort his parents.
Ariel Abel is Padre to HM Armed Forces and rabbi of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation