BY any standards the story of dying child Charlie Gard is a modern-day tragedy.
The plight of the little boy’s parents Chris Gard and Corinne Yates has touched even the hardest of hearts over the last few weeks.
But there is a hidden lesson behind the battle to best protect the interests of Charlie.
It may surprise some that ultimately the decisions of how and where he has spent the last few months of his short life have been in the hands of the hospital and not Charlie’s parents.
It’s a difficult moral issue. There are occasions when we are grateful that this is the case. Most fair-minded folk would recoil at the thought Jehovah’s Witness parents insisting their child is allowed to die when a blood transfusion would save their life.
Such circumstances make for great news stories – but they are very rare.
But the law is not founded on moral justice or any principle for that matter.
Instead it comes into play the moment a parent registers a child and is presented with a birth certificate.
Not sure about the concept of ‘ownership’ but generally we believe that they are our children.
But, in certain circumstances, that is not the case.
Social workers call at your door. If your child was legally your property, they would have no right to take him or her away. But the law is on their side – and as countless parents know to their cost, it is incredibly difficult to regain full custody once it is lost.
I was reminded earlier today of a fascinating real-life story. Social workers took all four children from a house – then mysteriously returned just one of them back home. The parents reportedly had no idea what was going on.
The reason, they later discovered, was that the other child wasn’t registered – and so the authorities had no jurisdiction in this case.
When you register a birth, the child becomes an employee of a corporation UK PLC – that’s the state to you and me.
They don’t tell you so, or consult you. But it happens all the same.
It’s harsh and ignorant to suggest in the case of Charlie Gard that hospital staff have not cried their own frustrated tears over recent events.
Nor that consultants have offered anything other than their best advice.
But important questions remain.
I’m not in any position to know whether the experimental treatment the parents were advocating for their stricken child has any merit.
But days when individuals would stare blankly at a white coat and believe everything they say are long gone. That’s a very good thing.
Take the issue of cancer as a prime example. Treatment offered by the NHS is limited to surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and other drugs.
This inevitably affects a patient’s diagnosis.
It’s akin to a car mechanic looking at the limited tools on his bag and insisting the vehicle is a write off.
A consultant in the NHS tells you what they can do – not if you would be better off seeking help elsewhere.
In their defence, so-called medical experts will speak about ‘evidence’. There is no scientific proof that other forms of therapy help, they insist. Never mind the fact there is no will to set up the trials needed to provide such evidence.
The need to do so is overwhelming. For whilst the expertise of surgeons is magnificent, the idea that treating our bodies with poison – as in chemotherapy – is as crazy and counterproductive as it sounds.
Overall, our approach to health care in this country is third world – no disrespect to them.
Infact the analogy of a car is very appropriate.
The medical training of doctors is very impersonal. They spend long hours discovering how to diagnose problems with the human machine then prescribe a remedy from a check list of recommended drugs.
Very little time is devoted to how to deal with living beings who have emotions and feelings.
They concentrate on specific problem areas rather than a holistic approach.
In years to come, we will find it difficult to believe we were so narrow minded for so long.
None of this will help the parents of Charlie Gard.
They have already hinted at their intentions to look out for similarly sick children in the future.
But, until vested interests are set aside in favour of more enlightened methods, the lessons of the last few tortuous months are likely to be repeated.