Sunday 17 November 2019

God bless little Charlie - his short life brought out the very best in us

Chris Gard and Connie Yates with their son Charlie Gard, who died from a rare genetic condition. Photo: PA
Chris Gard and Connie Yates with their son Charlie Gard, who died from a rare genetic condition. Photo: PA

Tim Stanley

Poor Charlie has died. Whatever one thinks of the debate surrounding his life, that's all that matters now. A life is gone. Those left behind have to be given the space to grieve. Politics is suspended.

It's the job of the pundit to offer lessons learned, but the tragedy was far too complex to decipher what it exactly meant.

Charlie had a disease so rare - mitochondrial depletion syndrome - that it's believed to affect only a few dozen children across the world. To say that doctors gave up on him is misleading: they concluded that nothing more could be done and that it would be better to make his death as painless as possible.

On the other hand, to say that the refusal of Charlie's parents to accept their diagnosis was irrational is to forget that fighting for one's children is exactly what being a parent is all about.

Everyone deals with the horrors of life in their own way. Don't judge the Gards for wanting to tease out every precious minute they could for their son. On the contrary, credit them for it. They captured the public's imagination precisely because they refused to give up in the face not only of nature but also a medical and judicial establishment that can be arrogant and insensitive.

They were reminiscent of the parents of Madeleine McCann, the couple that persevered in the search for their missing daughter long after clever, well-qualified people told them to give up.

This again, is what parents do. No one is guaranteed success in parenting - but you'd never forgive yourself if you stopped trying.

The sympathy that this struggle generated is what redeems this sad story.

We are flooded with images of people being awful to each other; we don't think often enough of the compassion and sympathy that is the invisible, vital oxygen of everyday life.

A less civilised society would give up on someone like Charlie - call him "too expensive", a sad failure of nature. A perverse civilisation would actually say letting him die released us all of an unnecessary burden. Our societies don't do that. Not yet, anyway.

© Telegraph

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