Charlie Gard attorney heads assisted suicide charity

Ever since a judge in England ruled that an American specialist could examine Charlie Gard, the case has continued to grow more and more complex. The tragic story of the baby who suffers from a rare genetic condition took another twist this week when it was revealed that the attorney appointed by the state to represent Charlie’s interests in court is also the head of a charity which promotes assisted dying. To say the least, this raises some conflict of interest questions. (Telegraph)

Charlie Gard’s parents have privately expressed their concern after discovering that the lawyer appointed to represent their 11-month-old son in court heads a charity that backs assisted dying.

Victoria Butler-Cole, who speaks on Charlie’s behalf in court, is chairman of Compassion in Dying, a sister organisation to Dignity in Dying which campaigns for a change in the law to make assisted dying legal in the UK. Dignity in Dying used to be called the Voluntary Euthanasia Society.

The two charities share the same chief executive and media team and trustees – such as Mrs Butler-Cole – can only sit on one charity if they support the aims of the other. Mrs Butler-Cole was appointed to the role by the publicly-funded state body Cafcass which acts in the best interests of children in court cases.

Charlie’s parents have insisted that they should be able to speak for their baby themselves, but are not allowed to do so. American audiences probably find this puzzling, if not shocking, but we’re witnessing yet another difference between the legal systems and cultural norms in Great Britain and the United States.

Still, no matter which system you grew up with, this certainly sounds problematic. I should note right up front that I tend to break from much of the conservative pack on the underlying issue of assisted suicide. I believe that adults facing long, painful illnesses with no realistic hope of recovery should be able to make such decisions without government interference if they are competent to do so. But I don’t want to conflate that debate here at home with what’s going on in London right now.

Charlie Gard is an infant who cannot make any such decisions for himself. (And wouldn’t be able to at that age even if he were perfectly healthy.) By default, the next line in the custodial and decision making process should rightly fall to the parents. They obviously want to explore every possible path toward recovery for their son and, even if those efforts fail, appear willing to leave it in the Lord’s hands as to when Charlie’s time on Earth is up. Frankly, that should be the end of the discussion as far as I’m concerned.

But under the British system, an attorney has been appointed by the courts, not to represent the wishes of the family, but to replace their authority, allowing the state to determine what’s best for Charlie. This is problematic enough in terms of basic fairness, but when the individual granted the ability to usurp the power of the parents turns out to be a vocal advocate of assisted suicide the conflict of interest is obvious.

I have no idea what, if any, hope there is for Charlie to experience a full recovery. Perhaps these new medical procedures offer a chance at saving his life. Maybe nothing short of an act of God could save the boy. But either way, that’s something which should be left to the family. This entire court proceeding is a terrible spectacle and the addition of a court appointed guardian with such problematic connections makes it all the worse.