At the heart of the tragic Charlie Gard case are two clashing values.
On one side: Doctors and UK officials who argue that they have the power to rule that cutting life support, and ceasing an further experimental treatments, is in the child's best interest.
On the other side are the stricken infant's parents, who believe that they should have the right to care for their child with their own funds and with the help of other doctors who want to treat him.
Pope Francis, of course, issued a statement backing the rights of the parents:
“The Holy Father follows with affection and commotion the situation of Charlie Gard, and expresses his own closeness to his parents. ... He prays for them, wishing that their desire to accompany and care for their own child to the end will be respected.”
It's impossible to understand this story without a clear presentation of the parental rights claim, which clashes with the rights articulated by UK officials and a specific set of medical experts. There are two essential points of view.
Editors at The New York Times know this, of course. They know this because one of their own columnists -- while expressing his convictions -- clearly described the standoff. However, it's interesting to note that the latest Times news story on this case covers the arguments of the state, but contains zero clear references to the parental-rights arguments. The pope is mentioned, for example, but the content of his words was ignored.
In other words, the Times ran two editorials: one an op-ed column and the other, alas, an unbalanced, advocacy news report in the news pages.
Columnist Ross Douthat opened his essay like this:
In the case of Charlie Gard, the dying British infant whose parents are being denied the right to attempt a long-shot treatment despite having a willing doctor and the money to pay for it, there is a hard question and an easy one.
The hard question is when medical interventions become too extreme and pointless, when illness and death should be allowed to take their course. The easy question, whose answer makes the case a moral travesty, is who should decide the hard question: doctors and judges, or Charlie’s mother and father.
Much of the confusion around the case reflects a mistaken leap between the two questions. Because the first one is so difficult, some people intuitively assume, the second one must be complicated too.
That's the editorial that is clearly labeled as an editorial.
The unlabeled editorial that ran in the news pages is more subtle. The key is what is missing. Here is the crucial section of that news report:
By withdrawing their last-ditch pleas to compel the hospital that is treating their son to subject him to an experimental therapy, the parents essentially ended a thorny bioethical case that had divided global opinion. “Time has run out,” the parents’ lawyer, Grant Armstrong, told the court.
Charlie, who is 11 months old, has a rare genetic abnormality known as mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome. He cannot see, hear, swallow or cry.
Great Ormond Street Hospital, the London pediatric institution that has been treating Charlie since October, has argued for months that letting him die was the only humane course of action. It won a series of court rulings allowing it to turn off life support for Charlie. ...
At the center of the controversy was an experimental therapy suggested by Dr. Michio Hirano, a neurologist at Columbia University Medical Center, that has helped children with a less severe form of Charlie’s condition.
At the center of the case, you see, were arguments among experts over the wisdom of an "experimental therapy" for Charlie Gard.
The rights of the parents to care for their child? That question (Sorry, Pope Francis) is not at the heart of this story and, in fact, does not even deserve to be explored in this report.
Perhaps, by yielding, the parents had ceased to make that argument?
Not really. Consider this passage from their agonizing public statement:
This has also never been about 'parents know best'. We have continuously listened to experts in this field and it has raised fundamental issues, ethically, legally and medically -- this is why the story of one little boy from two normal everyday people has raised such conflicting opinions and ferocious arguments worldwide.
All we wanted to do was take Charlie from one world renowned hospital to another world renowned hospital in the attempt to save his life and to be treated by the world leader in mitochondrial disease. We feel that we should have been trusted as parents to do so. ...
So Douthat, in an editorial column, included material noting that there were two crucial issues in this painful case.
The Times foreign desk -- in a hard-news piece -- framed the story in terms of the medical issues, alone. There is only one real issue.