OPINION: Religion shouldn’t decide life or death

PUBLISHED: 08:00 09 August 2017 | UPDATED: 08:08 09 August 2017


The tragic story of baby Charlie Gard is fading from the headlines. However the dilemmas it represents will long remain a battleground.

The lives of desperately ill people can be prolonged in ways previously unimaginable. This is thanks entirely to modern science. The question is who should have the right to decide whether treatment should continue however poor the prospects and however much it just prolongs suffering?

The intervention of the Pope and evangelical Pastor Patrick Mahoney, not to mention Trump, struck a jarring and unhelpful note in an already fraught situation. Babies die around the world every day from war and starvation, so why their particular interest here? The answer lies in their so-called ‘pro-life’ agenda. In other words their belief that difficult questions of life and death are ultimately matters for God rather than man. They prefer to put their faith in miracles and divine intervention than trust to the judgement of doctors and other experts or the courts who weigh up the evidence.

Our hearts go out to parents placed in such an agonising position. But we should also spare a thought for the doctors and nurses involved. Their chosen vocation is one of the most challenging and emotionally demanding. Of course experts will sometimes get things wrong. But it is outrageous to suggest that any of them might not have the best interests of their patient at heart.

It is natural that emotions run high in such an awful situation. That simply underlines the importance of having procedures which allow heart-breaking decisions to be taken in a reasoned and calm way.

There are no doubt many ways in which the system could be improved. That does not alter the case for having a process based on rational assessment of scientific evidence and the best interests of the patient. Compassion is also central. However, there is no case for allowing religious doctrine to help determine the outcome. More from Paul

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