The Charlie Gard case has been hijacked by those who prioritise feelings over facts
Last weekend I went to my sisters graduation ceremony. A mere seven years, including two maternity leaves, since she started medical school, my little sister is now an actual, swear-to-God, real live doctor. But I need to rephrase that first sentence: it wasnt a graduation, it was, my sister-the-doctor firmly informs me, an affirmation ceremony (those medical people such sticklers for accuracy). This is because it was where the new doctors recite the declaration of a doctor essentially an updated version of the Hippocratic oath, promising to alleviate pain, and so on.
It was very moving to hear this declaration in a hall in Westminster, but also strange, at a time when the main medical story in the news is the Charlie Gard case. Charlie, who was born with the inherited disease infantile onset encephalomyopathic mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome (MDDS), has epilepsy and irreversible brain damage, which is preventing his eyesight from developing, and cannot breathe by himself, according to Great Ormond Street hospital (GOSH). He has, in other words, a poor quality of life and worse prognosis.
Others, though, have made a different diagnosis. There is currently a petition demanding that the prime minister steps in to release Charlie from GOSH. Charlies parents are absolutely convinced he is not in pain. When he feels their presence, he opens his eyes as much as he can and they do not believe he is blind, the petition states, and, at the time of writing, more than 183,000 people have put their name to it. All sorts of people not known for their medical nous, ranging from Birds Of A Feathers Linda Robson to the man who should only have ever been known as The Apprentices Donald Trump, have expressed what they describe as their support for Charlie, insisting they know better than GOSH.
It would be impossible not to feel enormous sympathy for his parents, Connie Yates and Chris Gard. But this should not stop anyone from pointing out what this case has become, which is yet another example of an ominous and all too prevalent national mood.
This mood deifies feelings over facts, and insists that any opinion is worth as much as that of an expert more, in fact, because as we learned last summer in the lead-up to the EU referendum, experts are now a dark elite cabal and not to be trusted. And now, the Charlie Gard case has been taken up by some familiar names from the Leave campaign: Yates and Gards spokesperson is Alasdair Seton-Marsden, who stood as the Ukip candidate in the Chelsea and Fulham constituency in the 2017 general election, and he has been making dark pronouncements about how Charlie is being kept a prisoner by the NHS and the state. Nigel Farage has also enthusiastically stuck his opportunistic oar into this highly emotional pot. I am the only political figure in the UK who has been supporting those parents… And yet the establishment here has put up the shutters and said, no, turn off the life support machine, he announced on Fox News. Farage has spoken extensively on his LBC show about how this establishment is against Charlie, as well as talking about his interactions with Yates and Gard, arranged by Seton-Marsden (he did not mention the Ukip connection).
The American right has similarly been exploiting Charlie Gard for its own benefit. Vice-president Mike Pence claimed the heartbreaking story of the 11-month-old Charlie Gard in England is a story of Genetically inherited diseases? The importance of quality of life? No, single-payer (universal) healthcare. Ah, of course. The American people oughta reflect on the fact that for all the talk on the left about single-payer, that is where it takes us, he added.
All around me at my sisters affirmation ceremony were other proud families, not one of whom near me were speaking English: to one side French, to the other Chinese, Spanish behind, and all waving at their children who had decided to devote their lives to public service and alleviating pain. (One graduate said in her speech that she wouldnt be able to look at herself in the mirror if she was going into medicine to make money not a sentiment you hear often in the American medical establishment.)
What the Gard family is going through is a personal tragedy. The rise of the stupid in this country, however, is a national shame. As with Brexit, innocent peoples wholly understandable desire for control has been exploited by right-wing buccaneers who, far from working to alleviate suffering, cause only harm.