3000+ Doctors Speak on the Case of Charlie Gard

The case of Charlie Gard is now at the center of a global debate. The eleven-month-old child has a rare genetic disorder and his parents want to bring him to the US for an experimental therapy. However, the British doctors treating the boy are convinced that the therapy would not help, and therefore want to stop the life-sustaining measures.

Doctors in UK decided to stop treatment for Charlie, and the European Court of Human Rights concurred, dismissing a claim made by his parents. Also the proposal of the Bambino Gesu hospital in Rome to transfer the child to his care was rejected for legal reasons. Words of support for the parents’ position arrived from the Pope and the President of the US, Donald Trump. This story confronts physicians with various ethical questions, so we asked doctors:

Given the circumstances, do you believe Charlie’s parents should be allowed to take him out of the UK and pursue treatment?

Over 3,600 doctors from 20+ countries on four continents weighed-in on the Charlie Gard debate – globally, 75 percent of doctors believe Charlie Gard’s parents should be allowed to take him out of the UK and pursue treatment in the US.

To pursue treatment…
Many doctors commented alongside the poll. For those doctors in the majority, many were uncomfortable that anyone other than the parents would be allowed to make the choice. Others could not understand the precedence for denying them the option if they paid for everything:

“Ethically it is a complex case, but in this case, parents, as legal guardians may decide to take their child to the place they want for the experimental treatment provided that in that place meets admission criteria. Although we believe that the treatment will not bring great benefits to the patient, we can advise the family but the last word, and at other times the available budget for treatment is theirs.” – Neurology

“This is a decision for the parents to make, not the physicians or the courts. The parents may be emotional and they have certainly been fully informed. It is their right and their money (in this case donated money). There may not be much hope for this child, but we should not be in the business of taking away hope from patients or parents… The other issue is that even though private money is available, the physicians and courts are preventing the parents from taking the child out of their care to another country from care. That is just not right” – Anesthesiology

“If parents have the money they should be allowed to transfer him. I don’t understand how they can not be allowed to hire private medical transport and bring him to US if they have the funds. Can the hospital really stop them?” – Pediatrics

“The family is the family. It should anger everyone when a government takes from the family the right to choose care and the governments’ stated plan is just to let the patient die.” – Psychiatry

“The ‘therapy’ won’t work, but those parents will forever have to live with the guilt that they may have denied their child hope if they don’t send him. They must go.” – Nephrology

… Or not to pursue treatment
25 percent of respondents, however, believe that Charlie Gard’s parents should not be allowed to take him out of the U.K. Interestingly, when only examining results from U.K. doctors, 56 percent believe Charlie Gard’s parents should not be allowed to take him out of the U.K. and pursue treatment in the U.S. Both doctors from the U.K. and elsewhere who voted No pointed to the experimental nature of the proposed treatment and the fact that it could prolong Charlie’s suffering. There was also a common belief that money was not the answer to this tragic question.

“I think it’s kind of sad and indicative of our American mentality when everyone says “they have the money let them do what they want”. Just because they have a million bucks. Multiple courts and experts have ruled that further care and experimental treatments to this child would be wrong.” – Hospital medicine, U.S.

“If they have all that money they should donate it to the NHS. The taxpayer has funded this tragically futile life for too long already.” – GP, U.K.

“There are still people who think it’s fine if someone is willing to blow a million bucks moving a hopeless medical case to the U.S., ignoring the reality that the lifetime costs of total care will likely vastly exceed a paltry million” – Surgery, U.S.

“The child is brain damaged to a GCS = 3 and has been for months. He only survives because of life support equipment. The US doctor that offered to treat retracted the offer when they were told the truth. The case has been reviewed legally in all levels of UK court and has also seen European courts. All who have reviewed the case see it as hopeless and cruel to continue treatment.” – Hospital Medicine, U.K.

“What is the point in spending on a child that is suffering from a disorder that is futile or unfixable? I am not being heartless or insensitive towards the child or the parents….We have millions of people all over the world or even in our own country that are home less and can’t afford minimal health care and people are talking about saving a child that is not going to survive and even if he did will probably left with prolonged illness and suffering until he dies.” – Nephrology, U.S.

This poll was fielded in July of 2017. 3657 physicians responded to the poll. The margin of error for the global poll was ±2%, the margin of error among U.K. doctors alone was ±8%. More information about SERMO polling methodology can be found here.

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