On 24 July 2017, the long-running, deeply tragic and emotionally fraught court case of UK infant, Charlie Gard reached its sad conclusion. Following further medical assessment of the infant, Charlie’s parents and doctors finally reached agreement that continuing medical treatment was not in Charlie’s best interests. Life support was subsequently withdrawn and Charlie died on 28 July 2017.
This high profile case raised some vexed questions in medical ethics about the extent of parental discretion in decisions about treatment for a child. It highlighted legal (and potentially ethical) differences between the US and UK approach to disagreement between professionals and parents. It attracted attention and comment from many public figures (including President Trump and the Pope), and raises questions about ethical debate in the age of social media and the internet.
While the central questions in the Gard case continue to divide ethicists, health professionals and the public, in this talk, I will seek to identify some common ground and potential lessons to learn for future cases.
Dominic Wilkinson is Director of Medical Ethics and Professor of Medical Ethics at the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford. He is a consultant in newborn intensive care at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Oxford. He also holds a health practitioner research fellowship with the Wellcome Trust
Dominic has published more than 100 academic articles relating to ethical issues in intensive care for adults, children and newborn infants. He is the author of ‘Death or Disability? The ‘Carmentis Machine’ and decision-making for critically ill children’ (Oxford University Press 2013). He is editor of the Journal of Medical Ethics and managing editor of the open access Journal of Practical Ethics. Twitter: @Neonatalethics.
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