News of 11-month-old Charlie Gard’s death during last Friday’s wee morning hours brought sadness and grief. But perhaps for those of us far enough removed from the tragedy, a measure of hope — hope that the days of single-payer healthcare may now be similarly numbered.
The saga of this baby boy and his suffering parents, Chris Gard and Connie Yates, illuminates our own future — that is, America’s oft-demanded, much-feared, repeatedly prophesied move to single-payer medicine. Charlie’s vexing fame as a “prisoner of the National Health Service” serves as a warning about the ugly side of any government assuming the role of Doctor: it necessarily plays Judge and Executioner, too.
Charlie seemed perfectly healthy at birth, last August 4th. But at two months, he wasn’t thriving. His health so deteriorated that his fearful parents took him to Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. For the last nine months, that’s where Charlie stayed.
Doctors diagnosed him with mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome, a very rare genetic disease that degrades and ultimately destroys motor skills. Before his death, Charlie was unable to see, swallow, move his arms or legs — he could not breathe without a ventilator machine breathing for him.
How rare? Charlie Gard is believed to be only the 16th person ever discovered with the disease.
Quite a rotten hand dealt to this little tike and these loving parents.
While some might cave to the Inevitable, Chris and Connie did not give up. They researched and found an American doctor performing an experimental treatment for this condition. And Dr. Michio Hirano, who specializes in neuromuscular diseases at New York’s Columbia University Medical Center, agreed to treat Charlie.
Charlie’s parents even started a GoFundMe page that took in a whopping $1.8 million dollars to pay for Charlie’s care. Charlie’s prospects remained extremely dim, of course, but here was at least a flicker of hope that this little one might get to live a little longer, better, perchance to grow up.
The not-so-Great Ormond Street Hospital “stepped in and opposed this effort,” CNN reported, “stating that it was not in the best interest of their patient.”
The hospital’s preferred treatment? None.
Great Ormond Street Hospital determined that Charlie would not benefit from treatment. Charlie’s parents vehemently disagreed. A month later, the hospital (dubbed “Gosh” for short) went to court seeking an order allowing staff to turn off Charlie’s ventilator . . . after which Charlie would soon die.
The court case to decide who would decide Charlie’s medical care — life and death decisions to be sure — dragged on for seven months, during which time Charlie’s condition grew progressively worse. An April ruling by the United Kingdom’s High Court sided with the hospital, endorsing the idea that it was in Charlie’s self-interest to die rather than try to keep living. In June, the European Court of Human Rights declined to take the case, leaving that ruling intact.
To add a note of finality, the British Supreme Court then presented its stamp of approval, concurring with the legality of blocking Charlie’s parents from seeking treatment for him in the U.S. and allowing the hospital to remove the lad from life support.
For Charlie’s own good, mind you.
The doctors at Gosh may have expertly calculated the costs in pain and suffering for Charlie compared to the potential benefit in continuing to be kept alive long enough to receive an unproven — i.e. experimental — treatment. But no one knows the future; the doctors of UK’s National Health Service (NHS) have been wrong before.
“There was a case four years ago of a little kid, Ashya King, who had a brain cancer,” Brexit leader Nigel Farage informed a Fox News audience last week. “His parents wanted him to go to Prague for a revolutionary new treatment that the doctors here said wouldn’t work. The boy went. It worked. He’s now cancer free.”
That boy’s parents were briefly imprisoned for saving their child’s life — whisking him out of a British hospital to receive alternative medical treatment.
The treatment then forbidden by the NHS is now permitted.
Without Ashya King’s parents engaging in civil disobedience — becoming, of all things, single-payer healthcare criminals — not only might their son have died, but other children would have, too. The NHS was that far behind the curve on the latest innovations.
After much legal wrangling, the Gards were not even allowed to take their son home to die in peace. Instead, the judge ordered Charlie be taken off the ventilator and moved to hospice care this past Thursday. Early Friday, Charlie died.
“This raises some very big libertarian questions about the rights of parents against the state,” warned Nigel Farage last week on Tucker Carlson Tonight, calling the Charlie Gard case “disgusting.”
“The state in this country said you are not allowed to take your child to the USA to try this revolutionary treatment, that may or may not work,” Farage explained.
“Surely, the parents should decide the ultimate fate of their child — parents of sound mind and not the state.”
The idea behind a single-payer healthcare system is that costs can be forced down by the monopoly power of that single payer: big brother government. But monopolizing healthcare in this way puts a dysfunctional central authority in charge of medical care, moving the country further away from market incentives.
Monopolies have never performed well in keeping costs low and quality high. Neither has government.
But perhaps the strongest argument against single-payer healthcare — dramatized by the plight of Charlie Gard and his parents — is that the all-powerful single-paying government will also be the all-powerful single-decider.
A single-paying Uncle Sam may one day decide it is in your best interest to die.