The Charlie Gard story rolls on, of course, now super-charged by those magic words that inspire headlines -- "Donald Trump" and "Pope Francis."
It's interesting (and to me a bit depressing) the degree to which American media really seem to think this is story driven by American questions, which is what happens when a presidential tweet reshapes everything.
After recording this week's Crossroads podcast -- click here to tune that in -- it hit me that, in a way, I may be guilty of the same kind of thing, since I keep seeing this story through a religious-liberty lens.
True enough, podcast host Todd Wilken and I did spend quite a bit of time talking about church-state cases here in America that some are comparing to the Charlie Gard case. I'm talking about the agonizing court battles over the starvation death of Terri Schiavo, debates about the rights of Pentecostal parents who insist on faith healing (alone) and the complex legal battles over Jehovah's Witnesses and their doctrines rejecting blood transfusions.
However, the point I kept making was not that laws in England and the European Union should be the same as America. What interests me is why journalists don't seem to be interested in explaining to readers how religious-liberty concepts on the other side of the Atlantic affect this painful case.
A news cycle ago, we got a clue that we may have more coverage ahead that could deal with this. Consider this from a Sky News report:
Great Ormond Street Hospital says “claims of new evidence” in the treatment of Charlie Gard have prompted it to seek a new hearing at the High Court. In a statement, the hospital said: “We have just met with Charlie’s parents to inform them of this decision and will continue to keep them fully appraised of the situation.
“Two international hospitals and their researchers have communicated to us as late as the last 24 hours that they have fresh evidence about their proposed experimental treatment. “And we believe, in common with Charlie’s parents, it is right to explore this evidence.”
New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Irving Medical Center said late Thursday that it would admit and evaluate Charlie “provided that arrangements are made to safely transfer him to our facility, legal hurdles are cleared, and we receive emergency approval from the FDA for an experimental treatment as appropriate,” according to a statement to The Washington Post.
The U.S. hospital said another option could be to ship an experimental drug to London's Great Ormond Street Hospital, where Charlie is being treated. The American hospital said it would provide instructions on administering the drug, provided the FDA gives clearance.
Great Ormond planned to disconnect Charlie from life support and, earlier this week, declined a request by the Vatican's children's hospital to move the boy to Rome.
A spokesman for the Vatican's Bambino Gesù Children’s Hospital told The Post on Wednesday that the British hospital turned down the offer, citing legal reasons, but added that officials were working on a solution.
In other words, doctors linked to the Vatican children's hospital are trying to get their hands on the medical information that they need in order to propose treatments in Italy, as opposed to needing to take the child to the United States.
Yes, try to imagine Trump volunteering his own personal plane, as his own expense, to fly the family and baby to Rome. Try to imagine the coverage if Pope Francis pays the family a visit in the hospital there to bless the child and anoint it with oil, with prayers for healing.
At the same time, there are all kinds of sidebars that you can see in European press and in the religious press, as opposed to mainstream reports in America. I'll mention two.
First, on the secular side, The Daily Mail has an interview -- in a sidebar to a primary report -- with one of the scientists who co-signed the letter to the British hospital, arguing that there is evidence that further treatment could help Charlie Gard. He is in the Neuromuscular and Mitochrondial Pathology department attached to the Vall d'Hebron Hospital in Barcelona, Spain. That strikes me as a rather logical angle for reporters to probe.
Second, the National Catholic Register has some strong, strong commentary from the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family in Rome. The founding president of that institution, Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, called the court rulings against the parents' wishes for their child's treatment “pit of barbarity.”
Wait, there's lots more from the cardinal, starting with, "We have come to the end of the road of the culture of death."
"It is now public institutions, the courts, who decide if a child has, or hasn’t, the right to live -- even against the will of the parents,” he said, adding: “We are the children of institutions, and we owe our lives to them? The poor West: it has rejected God and his paternity and now finds itself entrusted to bureaucracy! Charlie’s [guardian] angel always sees the face of the Father (cf. Mt 18:10).”
Cardinal Caffarra exhorted the authorities to “stop it, in the name of God. Otherwise, I say to you with Jesus: ‘It would be better for you if a millstone were hung round your neck and you were cast into the depths of the sea.’ (cf. Lk 17:2).”
This same story notes that the Italian medical association -- Scienza & Vita (Science and Life) -- has rejected the definitive prediction among UK experts that further treatments for tiny Charlie Gard have no chance of success.
A complex, valid and essential angle in this story is that many Catholic scholars disagree with one another on how to apply the church's teachings in this case. You can read more on that in the New York Times report that ran with this headline: "In British Baby’s Case, Catholic Views Aren’t So Clear-Cut."
A statement from Scienza & Vita, quoted by the National Catholic Register, acknowledges that debate, noting there are:
... “[C]linical situations in which the insistence on practicing medical and surgical interventions and treatments is not reasonable, or because it is totally irrelevant to the support of a life that is now ending, or because they are the cause of unnecessary suffering.”
But it adds that Charlie’s illness “is not terminal,” nor are ventilation, feeding and artificial hydration “so hard for him to recommend suspension” as the rulings state. Why, then, the association asks, should a “seriously ill child be killed in advance of taking away the care he needs?”
What's the bottom line at this point?
At the very least, major newsrooms need to have someone covering what is happening at the Vatican right now. That may not be as sexy as waiting for the next Trump tweet, but that's where some of the best religion-beat developments seem to taking place.
That is, if editors grasp that there are major religion-angle issues and themes linked to this case. Why not cover them now?