Charlie Gard case went beyond legal realm, Sir James Munby says

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Oct 12, 2017
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Charlie Gard's parents fought to take their terminally-ill baby abroad for experimental treatment

Peter Nicholls/Reuters

The case of the terminally ill child Charlie Gard went beyond medical and legal issues and entered “the realms of morality, ethics and religion”, the country’s leading family judge said yesterday.

Sir James Munby defended the controversial court process that considered the care of the 11-month-old child, who died earlier this year.

The child’s family had wanted to take him for specialist treatment in the US, but doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London argued that it would not be in the child’s best interest to travel abroad for unproven treatment that had a slim chance of success. The Supreme Court ruled in favour of the hospital.

“In the case of Charlie Gard,” Sir James, who is president of the family division of the High Court in England and Wales, said, “we saw discussions up and down the appeal ladder more than once – the problem being that these discussions are never purely medical.”

Speaking at a conference in Birmingham organised by No 5 Chambers, he said: “Doctors can give a diagnosis and prognosis, but when you go beyond that you enter the realms of morality, ethics and religion. But the simple fact is we live in a system dominated by the rule of law and decisions made by judges – there are certain cases that should always come before a court.”

The judge also highlighted problems at the Court of Protection. He said that the court “continues to deal efficiently and effectively with urgent medical cases, but non-emergency cases are still taking far too long to resolve and it is simply not good enough”.

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