Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Ethics Man

Charlie Gard case: an ethicist in the courtroom

BMJ 2017; 358 doi: (Published 19 July 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;358:j3451
  1. Daniel Sokol, medical ethicist and barrister
  1. 12 King’s Bench Walk, London
  1. daniel.sokol{at}

The hospital’s position seems more in the spirit of Hippocratic principles than that of the parents

“Shame on you, GOSH!” chanted the crowd outside the gates of the Royal Courts of Justice in London last week, referring to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children, where 11 month old Charlie Gard lies in intensive care.123

In court, the barrister for the parents presented new evidence in their effort to allow Charlie to undergo experimental nucleoside treatment abroad. The parents pinned their hopes on a respected US professor of neurology, who gave evidence by video link. He had also given evidence in the April hearing.

In the US doctor’s opinion, which was based on his team’s recent, unpublished research, not available in April, there is a 55% chance of the nucleoside therapy reducing the amount of Charlie’s time on a ventilator and a 10% chance of complete weaning from it. The doctor was less optimistic about the treatment’s effect on brain function but said that there was a “small but significant chance” of improvement.

The fundamental medical issue, the doctor said, was whether the brain …

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