I know how Charlie Gard’s parents feel – but their trauma shouldn’t be exploited for political gain

This baby has become a campaign, a talking point, something we are all entitled to get involved with

Janet Street-Porter
Friday 07 July 2017 16:34 BST
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Charlie Gard’s parents have fought tirelessly to keep their child from being taken off life support
Charlie Gard’s parents have fought tirelessly to keep their child from being taken off life support

The latest development in the sad story of Charlie Gard is that the Pope is said to want to give the terminally ill baby a passport to enable him to receive treatment in Italy as a citizen of the Vatican City.

Back in the UK, Charlie’s parents complain that hospital executives are continually holding meetings at short notice and their views are not listened to. Really? Can there be many people who don’t know the views of Connie Yates and Chris Gard about their right to overrule experts and move their child abroad for experimental treatment? The couple have used social media to reach as many people as possible to argue their position.

On the other hand, the medical team at Great Ormond Street are bound by confidentiality and professional ethics. The hospital has become the focus of media attention while it continues to treat many other seriously ill children, and it is seeing its reputation trashed by those (including some sections of the media) who seek to profit from someone else’s misery.

Unfairly, the hospital is having to mount a PR exercise to defend its international reputation as a centre of excellence. This baby has become a campaign, a talking point, something we are all entitled to get involved with.

Surely the parents need counselling and support to adapt to the inevitable. Instead they continue to fight for the right to remove their child from his protected environment where he is monitored by experts. Along with the Pope, Donald Trump has waded in, tweeting that he would like to “help” in any way he can.

Many years ago, I sat at the bedside of my stepson at Addenbrokes hospital in Cambridge. He was 11, and after complaining of stomach pains (he attended a special needs boarding school during the week) he was taken to hospital for a check-up.

The next day, during an exploratory operation, a large inoperable tumour was discovered in his stomach. My husband was told the only prognosis was death within a very short period.

Nothing prepares you for that shock. We sat there and he disintegrated.

The boy’s mother arrived from America and they argued about who would be there at the end. I have experienced first-hand how the death of a child makes adults irrational and drives them over the edge, beyond reason. My husband left his son in a coma, and he died next day.

My husband never fully recovered and fell into an extremely severe depression. The death of his beloved son changed him forever and there was little I could do except support him. Eventually, I left.

Charlie Gard's father in plea to 'give my boy a chance'

No parent wants to think their child cannot be saved – but what’s obscene about this situation is the way the trauma of Charlie Gard’s parents is being exploited for political and spiritual gain. Of course the Pope will be (like the rest of us) upset and sad about this child. But this direct and controversial intervention must be viewed in the light of recent negative news stories about the Vatican.

One of Pope Francis’ key advisors, Cardinal George Pell, has just announced that he will travel to Australia to answer charges of alleged historical sexual abuse involving children. Initially, Cardinal Pell flatly refused to leave the Vatican, where he is head of financial affairs and a key member of the Pope’s powerful advisory council. Last year he gave evidence by video link – and then his alleged victims travelled to Rome to denounce him. In Australia, this scandal is huge news.

Pope Francis has announced a zero-tolerance policy on all abuse – but reports emerged this week which must have caused him further embarrassment. Last month, the Vatican police raided the apartment of the secretary to Cardinal Coccopalmerio (another of the Pope’s key advisors on moral issues) and allegedly halted a gay orgy involving drugs. The person concerned was previously being proposed as a future cardinal.

So you might see why the Pope is interested in the case of Charlie Gard – his church, which condemns abortion, gay marriage and same-sex relationships, seems to have hypocrisy at its very heart. Saving a baby is simpler than dealing with allegations of historical sexual abuse which have been swept under the carpet.

As for Donald Trump, he’s got a busy week which involves plenty of diplomacy, meeting President Putin for the first time, trying to be pleasant to Angela Merkel and a whole host of leaders at the G20. He thinks he can offer simple solutions to complex problems via homespun epithets on social media – by offering the North Korean leader a hamburger and a “chat”, for example.

Charlie Gard’s future can’t be tapped out on Twitter or magicked up in the Vatican. It’s all too obvious, if only those closest to him could bear to face the inevitable.

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