Amid an emotionally charged fight for Charlie Gard, a British hospital that plans to disconnect the terminally ill infant from life support declined to move him to the Vatican's children's hospital for care.
Bambino Gesù Children’s Hospital had asked whether the child could be transferred to Rome to receive care after Pope Francis and President Trump voiced support for Charlie, an 11-month-old British boy who has a rare genetic condition and resulting brain damage that has robbed him of the ability to move his arms and legs, cry, eat or breathe on his own.
A hospital spokesman in Rome told The Washington Post on Wednesday that London's Great Ormond Street Hospital turned down the offer, citing legal reasons, but officials were working on a solution.
Bambino Gesù Children’s Hospital President Mariella Enoc said in a statement to The Post that doctors at the hospital in Rome who study rare diseases are in contact with international experts, including in the United States, “to develop a protocol for experimental treatment for Charlie.”
Enoc added, “If we're willing to execute the Supreme Court ruling, the English hospital could accept Charlie's transfer to Rome. But the Bambino Gesù Childrens Hospital can not consider this opportunity.”
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano it is “right that decisions continued to be led by expert medical opinion, supported by the courts,” according to the Press Association. Great Ormond Street Hospital declined to comment Wednesday on the recent development and has not yet spoken about the next steps.
Charlie's story has captured worldwide attention as his parents, Chris Gard and Connie Yates, fought in court to be able to try an experimental treatment in the United States to save their son. The case was taken to the European Court of Human Rights, which declined to hear the matter last week, upholding previous court rulings that the therapy would not help him and it was in his best interest to prevent further suffering by withdrawing life support.
Tension mounted after Charlie's parents appeared in a tearful video statement last week, saying doctors were planning to remove Charlie from life support last Friday at the London hospital.
They later said the hospital decided to postpone the termination of care.
It has since turned into a heated debate about a child's life and death.
The pope said last week 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.”
Then Trump tweeted that the United States “would be delighted to” help. White House spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferré said that the president is seeking to help a family in a “heartbreaking situation” and that members of his administration had spoken to the family in calls facilitated by the British government.
Charlie's mother told the Daily Mail the support has given them hope.
“They are traditional men who believe in the family,” she said of Frances and Trump. “They believe in our case and understand why we believe it is right to continue fighting so hard to save Charlie.”
But one medical expert says such hope could do more harm than good.
British professor Robert Winston, a well-known fertility expert, said, “These interferences from the Vatican and from Donald Trump seem to me to be extremely unhelpful and very cruel, actually,” according to the Daily Mail.
He said Wednesday on “Good Morning Britain” that he does not believe the doctors in London are trying to assert authority but rather “they're trying to take an ethical decision based on the judgment of what they know and, ultimately, I think we have to respect what their knowledge is.” He added, “If they say that this mutation is so severe that really this is something which would be even more cruel to have this child travel, that is something which I think one really has to respect.”
He added, however, the parents should be allowed to make that decision.
— Good Morning Britain (@GMB) July 5, 2017
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, Charlie 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, court records show.
The child 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 for him.
In a British court 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 experimental therapy Charlie's parents wanted to try could not repair structural brain damage and noted that the treatment had never even been tested on mice.
The Italian news agency ANSA reported Monday that officials at Bambino Gesù Children’s Hospital planned to ask their counterparts in London whether Charlie could be moved from that facility to Rome.
“We know that it is a desperate case and that there are no effective therapies,” Enoc, president of the Bambino Gesù Children's Hospital, said at the time. “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.”
A spokesman for the Bambino Gesù Children’s Hospital said that it is too early to know what will happen, saying “it's an unfolding story.”
This story has been updated.