BBC Radio 4:Tim Stanley - 11/07/17


You are listening to a programmes from BBC Radio 4.

Good morning. The Charlie Gard case has captured the world's attention in the way that I suspect only a fragile baby could. Charlie, who is just 11-months-old, was born with Mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome. As we heard Charlie's mother desCRIbe yesterday, his parents want him to receive experimental treatment - and they've attracted support from Pope Francis and Donald Trump. But Charlie's doctors say his condition is incurable and that it wouldn't be in the child's best interests to continue treatment.

The doctors have my sympathy for being forced to argue for something that must go against every instinct in their body: accepting that a patient cannot be cured. They have to explain this to parents who enjoy enormous popular sympathy because they are parents. People imagine if Charlie was their own child. Of course, they would reject what seems like surrender. Of course, they would fight for life.

I have no children myself, but I can see that the responsibility is awesome. Whenever someone hands me a baby to hold I'm terrified that I'll drop it and it'll shatter into a thousand pieces. I am reassured that children are actually quite resilient: a friend jokes that by the time you've had your third you're letting them juggle with knives. But another says that it was only when he first held his daughter in his arms that he was conscious of a total responsibility for someone other than himself. Suddenly, nothing else matters: everything you do is for them. You are a planet orbiting their star.

There are countless cases of parents risking their own lives to save a child. During the Grenfell fire, Marcio Gomes realized that his eldest daughter had fallen behind trying to escape and went back up to the smoke-filled levels to rescue her. His daughter survived, but Mr Gomes's wife, who was pregnant, lost her child in the womb. The baby had to be delivered to prevent an infection. Mr Gomes said: "I was holding him, he looked peaceful, like a baby that was just sleeping." This story encapsulates the best and worst of being a loving parent; going to any lengths to save your child and the desolating experience of loss.

So much of religion is an immortalization of common human experience, and at the centre of one of the most important religious stories is a mother, Mary, who is forced to face the pain of losing her son. I think of Mary's anguished face in so many artistic depictions and wonder at the strength of will that mothers and fathers must have. The outpouring of support for the Gard family is that of human beings reacting with vast pity to a parent's pain - determined that no one should suffer it alone.

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