Then the pope weighed in—and said almost exactly the opposite. Francis “is following with affection and sadness the case of little Charlie Gard and expresses his closeness to his parents,” a Vatican press office statement said. “For this he prays that their wish to accompany and treat their child until the end is not neglected.”
On Monday, President Trump added his support with a tweet supporting Charlie and his family.
Charlie’s case touches on some of the most sensitive moral and political questions about the role of the state at the end of life. The decisions of the European courts represented the final word on whether Charlie’s parents could pursue treatment in the U.S., and after the ruling, Yates and Gard claimed the hospital had denied permission for them to take Charlie back to their home to die. Yates and Gard have framed the medical dispute as “Charlie’s fight,” developing a large social-media following as they chronicled their effort to pursue further treatment for their son. The case also has religious dimensions: On their instagram page, Yates and Gard documented their celebration of their son’s baptism and showed him clutching a pendant of St. Jude, the Catholic figure most often associated with hospitals and medical care. Media in the U.K. have followed the Gard family’s case closely and the court orders to end Charlie’s life have been fiercely criticized by conservatives in the U.S. and abroad.
With the Church weighing in, the case took on a whole new dimension. The competing statements seemed to reveal an internal dispute over end-of-life issues within the Vatican. But they also teed up Trump’s intervention. Religious conservatives in the U.S. were outraged over the Pontifical Academy for Life’s original statement: “Besides being patronizing, the Vatican’s statement is a gross distortion of the situation,” wrote Michael Brendan Dougherty at National Review. “It portrays the Gards as acting alongside the doctors, but subject to outside manipulation. The Gards are resisting the doctors. The Gards are not facing ‘their decisions.’ They are facing authorities that have overridden them.”
Trump, who has consistently expressed his verbal support for religious freedom, has now stepped in, cementing the issue as an international cause for conservatives. “Upon learning of baby Charlie Gard's situation, President Trump has offered to help the family in this heartbreaking situation,” the White House said in a statement issued on Monday afternoon. “Although the President himself has not spoken to the family, he does not want to pressure them in any way, members of the administration have spoken to the family in calls facilitated by the British government. The President is just trying to be helpful if at all possible.”