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Charlie Gard – European Court of Human Rights to hear case

9 June 2017

It would be hard to find a more tragic set of circumstances than Charlie Gard’s case and the understandable anguish for his parents. On Thursday 8 June the Supreme Court took a difficult decision to reject the appeal to allow Charlie to undergo an experimental therapy in the US. He has been on life support at Great Ormond Street Hospital since October 2016 and suffers from a rare condition called mitochondrial depletion syndrome.

The legal argument forwarded by Charlie’s parents was that parents should be allowed to make the decision unless there was a risk of ‘significant harm,’ and that to do otherwise was a ‘state intrusion on a massive scale’. The hospital’s evidence has been that due to Charlie’s deterioration, therapy would be futile and palliative care was now the only appropriate option. The court determined that whilst "Any court will have the utmost sympathy for parent exploring every possible way of preserving the life of their baby son," they were bound by the factual findings of medical evidence, the welfare of the child was paramount and that the hospital should be allowed to withdraw life support at 17:00 hrs today. This, however, has just changed as the European Court of Human Rights has agreed to look at the case and directed that treatment should continue until Tuesday.

These are inevitably difficult cases for families and medical staff alike. It is not a situation anyone would ever wish to become involved in, but questions of medical futility are becoming more common as advances in medical science are made. What is clear is that these situations always require careful and sensitive consideration. 

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