UK judge to decide whether baby Charlie Gard can go home to die

Chris Gard (left) and Connie Yates, the parents of terminally ill infant Charlie Gard, reading a statement in London on July 24, 2017.
Chris Gard (left) and Connie Yates, the parents of terminally ill infant Charlie Gard, reading a statement in London on July 24, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (REUTERS) - A British judge will rule on Wednesday (July 26) on where terminally ill baby Charlie Gard will spend his last moments before his life support system is switched off, unless a last-ditch attempt by his parents to bring him home is successful.

The 11-month-old baby, who suffers from an extremely rare genetic condition causing progressive brain damage and muscle weakness, has been at the centre of a harrowing dispute between his parents and the London hospital caring for him.

The case has resonated far and wide, triggering a heated debate about who should decide a child's fate and drawing comment from US President Donald Trump and Pope Francis.

Charlie's parents, Connie Yates and Chris Gard, wish to take their baby home and spend several days with him before his ventilation tube is removed.

Great Ormond Street Hospital said on Tuesday (July 25) that was impossible for practical reasons.

A High Court judge who has presided over an agonising series of hearings on the case gave the parents until Wednesday to find a team of intensive care specialists willing to oversee Charlie's care at home.

Failing that, the judge will make a ruling on where Charlie's life should end.

He indicated on Tuesday that the best option may be a hospice - a possibility supported by the hospital and preferred by the parents to a hospital death.

Charlie's mother made a desperate appeal late on Tuesday for a medical team to come forward to help bring Charlie home. "We promised Charlie every day we would take him home," she was quoted as saying by British media. "It seems really upsetting after everything we've been through to deny us this."

Great Ormond Street, a renowned centre for the treatment of sick children, said it has moved "heaven and earth" to try and make it possible for Charlie to die at home, but the logistical challenges and risk of a "disordered" death were insurmountable.

Charlie requires invasive ventilation to breathe and cannot see, hear or swallow.

Yates and Gard had wanted to take him to the US to undergo experimental treatment, against the advice of Great Ormond Street doctors who said it would not help and would only prolong the baby's suffering.

British courts, backed by the European Court of Human Rights, refused permission, saying the parents' plan was not in Charlie's best interests.

The parents gave up the legal battle on Monday, saying that the latest scans showed Charlie's condition had deteriorated to the point that no recovery was possible.

But they remain convinced that the treatment might have helped Charlie had he received it months ago.

The hospital disagrees, saying Charlie had suffered irreversible brain damage by January as a result of a series of seizures, and his responsiveness has not changed since then.