By John Wagner, Lindsey Bever and Lenny Bernstein,
President Trump on Monday injected himself into an emotionally charged end-of-life case overseas, saying “we would be delighted” to help British parents who have sought highly experimental treatment in the United States for their terminally ill infant.
The unusual overture by a U.S. president — which Trump announced on Twitter — came a day after Pope Francis weighed in on the fate of 11-month-old Charlie Gard, whose case captured worldwide attention when European courts decided the boy should be removed from life support over the wishes of his parents.
The pontiff said on Twitter that “to defend human life, above all when it is wounded by illness, is a duty of love that God entrusts to all.” The courts had decided that the treatment being sought in the United States would probably only cause more harm to the child.
White House spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferre said Trump is seeking to help a family in a “heartbreaking situation” and that members of his administration had spoken to the Gards in calls facilitated by the British government.
“The president is just trying to be helpful, if at all possible,” Ferre said, adding that Trump had not spoken directly to the family. She declined to name the doctor and U.S. hospital that could provide treatment, citing “legal issues.”
Charlie has a rare genetic condition and resulting brain damage that has robbed him of the ability to move his arms and legs, eat or breathe on his own.
Trump’s overture came ahead of a trip this week to Germany for a G-20 summit, where he will meet with British Prime Minister Theresa May, among other European leaders.
May has not taken a position on the case and did not offer any public response Monday to Trump’s tweet. Other British politicians have expressed sympathy for Charlie’s parents but have largely refrained from expressing opinions about the case, saying that it is a matter for his family, his doctors and the courts.
Trump is embroiled at home in a fierce debate in Congress over legislation to revamp the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature health-care initiative. While Trump has promised better health care for all Americans, an analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected 22 million fewer people could have insurance within a decade as a result of the Senate bill written largely by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
The president’s proposition Monday also offered the latest example of his ability to elevate events through messages to his more than 33 million followers on Twitter. Charlie’s ordeal had prompted outpourings of support from people in Britain and across the world, but it received far more attention in the U.S. media on Monday than it had previously.
Trump’s action was applauded by antiabortion groups, which were broadly supportive of his campaign last year and have been pleased with his tenure thus far, including his pick of Neil M. Gorsuch for the Supreme Court.
“The fact that President Trump would speak out on behalf of Charlie Gard shows a remarkable sensitivity to the life issue and a depth of commitment that evangelicals and faithful Catholics will find encouraging and inspiring,” said Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition.
Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, said she was not surprised by Monday’s events.
“This is a story that is tugging not only at the heartstrings of pro-life America, but everyone, I think,” she said, noting that the Gards have been raising money online to come to the United States. “It just seems cruel and heartless for the decision-makers in the U.K. to say, ‘We’re sorry, we’re not going to give you this chance.’ ”
Charlie’s case was taken to the European Court of Human Rights, which declined to hear the matter last week, upholding previous court rulings that it was in the infant’s best interest to withdraw life support.
In a ruling in April, Justice Nicholas Francis of the Family Division of the High Court of Justice wrote that there was “unanimity among the experts” that the therapy could not repair structural brain damage, and he noted the therapy in question had never even been tested on mice.
If Charlie were in a U.S. hospital, or able to get into one, history suggests his parents would find doctors more receptive to their wishes that life support continue, according to bioethicist Arthur L. Caplan.
“We don’t like to abandon people. We’re very hopeful,” said Caplan, a professor of bioethics at New York University’s Langone Medical Center. “We tend to have a strong religious element in there, that’s part of the culture. [And] we love our technology.”
Only one state, Texas, has a law that allows physicians to reject parental wishes and terminate life support, he said.
Elsewhere, there is the case of teenager Jahi McMath, who was moved from a hospital in California to New Jersey in 2013 after a coroner declared her brain dead. She remains on life support there.
In some respects, Gard’s case is reminiscent of that of Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman who was left in a persistent vegetative state after a cardiac arrest.
Her husband, who was her legal guardian, sought to have her feeding tube removed, but her parents disagreed. That prompted a prolonged legal fight that ended after courts ruled in her husband’s favor and life support was removed.
Charlie was born in August with a rare genetic condition called infantile-onset encephalomyopathic mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome, or MDDS, according to court records.
Weeks after birth, he was struggling to hold up his head and was not gaining weight. At the two-month mark, he had become lethargic, and his breathing had become shallow, records show.
Charlie was transported to Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, where he has remained since. Earlier this year, doctors concluded that nothing more could be done.
The Italian news agency ANSA reported Monday that officials at a Vatican-owned Italian hospital will ask their counterparts at the London hospital whether Charlie can be moved from that facility to Rome.
Regarding possible treatment in Rome, Bambino Gesù Hospital President Mariella Enoc said Monday: “We know that it is a desperate case and that there are no effective therapies. . . . We are close to the parents in prayer and, if this is their desire, willing to take their child, for the time he has left to live.”
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said in a statement that Francis has called for Charlie’s parents to be able to care for him until his death.
“The Holy Father follows with affection and emotion the case of little Charlie Gard and expresses his own closeness to his parents,” the statement read, according to Vatican Radio. “For them he prays, hoping that their desire to accompany and care for their own child to the end is not ignored.”
Griff Witte in London contributed to this report.