Wading directly into a charged moral and political debate in the UK, and also appearing to recalibrate an earlier statement from the head of his own Pontifical Academy for Life, Pope Francis on Sunday expressed hope that the desire of 10-month-old Charlie Gard’s parents “to accompany and care for their own child to the end” will be respected.
“The Holy Father follows with affection and commotion the situation of Charlie Gard, and expresses his own closeness to his parents,” reads a statement issued by Greg Burke, the pope’s spokesperson.
“He prays for them, wishing that their desire to accompany and care for their own child to the end will be respected.”
The pope’s message is aligned with his frequent denunciation of what he calls a “throw-away culture,” a term he uses to describe ways in which those society deems to lack value are discarded, such as unborn children, the disabled and the elderly.
The message comes three days after a statement released by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, signed by Italian Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia. That statement, which appeared to express sympathy for a court ruling preventing parents of a 10-month-old infant from pursuing experimental treatment in the U.S. to combat a life-threatening disease, drew criticism from several camps, including pro-life leaders in the Church.
Pope Francis had used his Twitter account on Friday, the day the infant was supposed to be taken off life support, sending a clear pro-life message:
To defend human life, above all when it is wounded by illness, is a duty of love that God entrusts to all.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) June 30, 2017
It was shared by Burke on the following day, adding #CharlieGard, making it clear it was an allusion to the UK baby.
The infant suffers from a rare degenerative brain disease, with only 16 known cases of it in the world. His damaged brain means he needs to have assistance in breathing and he has seizures from time to time.
He has brain activity, but he’s unlikely to develop sophisticated mental capacities without a way to treat the disorder, called infantile onset encephalomyopathic mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome, or MDDS.
His parents have raised nearly two million dollars to take him to the United States for experimental treatment. However, UK officials won’t allow the parents to ensure their son receives it. Judges have ruled further treatment would “continue to cause Charlie significant harm.”
Furthermore, on Thursday the European Court of Human Rights ruled Great Ormond Street Hospital, where the infant is being treated, did not have to keep him on life support. His life support machine was due to be turned off on Friday, but his family has been allowed to spend more time with him, after they were denied the request to take him for treatment.
The therapy Connie Yates and Chris Gard want to give to their son is currently being administered to Arturito Estopinian, a six-year old who continues to improve on daily doses of the therapy. His parents, Arthur Estopinian and his wife Olga, have been in “constant contact” with the Gard family.
The British paper Sunday Express reported on Saturday that Estopinian said he was heartbroken Charlie was not given a chance to try the therapy that saved their own son’s life, after he was “sent home to die” aged 18 months.