Margaret Clayton: Allowing a loved one to die is the hardest, most loving decision we’ll face

Doctors can withdraw life-support treatment from the baby with a rare genetic condition against his parents' wishes, a High Court judge has ruled. (Family handout/PA Wire)
Doctors can withdraw life-support treatment from the baby with a rare genetic condition against his parents' wishes, a High Court judge has ruled. (Family handout/PA Wire)

THERE can have been no harder decision than that which High Court judge Mr Justice Francis faced last week when he told the parents of baby Charlie that their desperately sick child had a right to die.

Chris Gard and Connie Yates were devastated by the decision.

They wanted to take their eight-month-old son to America for treatment for the rare genetic disease from which he suffers.

But after listening to the advice of medical experts, the judge believes there is little chance of a recovery and reluctantly came to the conclusion it is time to allow Charlie to die with dignity.

Any of us who are parents will know the desperation and heartache Chris and Connie must be experiencing.

While there is breath in your body, a parent will fight for the survival of their child – no matter the cost or the difficulties involved.

It cannot be any other way. It’s human instinct to defend and protect your own flesh and blood.

But hard though it is to say this, I think the decision is the right one.

Why put this little baby through the ordeal of a flight to America, more medical interventions and suffering when doctors are not convinced it would work?

Sometimes, despite heartfelt longing to prolong life at any cost, we have to ask ourselves – is it time to let our loved one go?

Whether this is a tiny baby, a mature adult, or an elderly person – at some point we have to question – what is nature telling us? Is the pain and trauma of prolonging suffering worth it?

Every human life has value and it is right that as a society we cherish that concept and strive to prolong the quality of life for as long as possible.

But when there is evidence doctors have done all they can, should we accept the inevitable?

It’s a terrifying thought, especially for parents of a child whose every instinct is to fight on to save their child – but quality of life is every bit as important as length of life.

The experimental treatment on offer in America is not proven and may cause pain.

Why put him through that?

Baby Charlie has been cherished by his mum and dad since his first breath. They have been with him every step of his little life, hoping, caring, praying they can save him.

But if doctors can give no assurance of success, Mr Justice Francis is right to conclude this is not in Charlie’s best interests.

He said it was “with a heavy heart” that he gave his decision.

One of the toughest moral judgements he may have had to make. But I can understand how he made it.

My heart goes out to Charlie’s devoted parents. I hope they find solace and peace in the knowledge that no matter how short his span of life – their son knows he is loved.

Sometimes letting go is the ultimate gift we can give.

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