Charlie Gard

The New York Times runs two Charlie Gard editorials, with one in the news pages

The New York Times runs two Charlie Gard editorials, with one in the news pages

At the heart of the tragic Charlie Gard case are two clashing values.

On one side: Doctors and UK officials who argue that they have the power to rule that cutting life support, and ceasing an further experimental treatments, is in the child's best interest.

On the other side are the stricken infant's parents, who believe that they should have the right to care for their child with their own funds and with the help of other doctors who want to treat him.

Pope Francis, of course, issued a statement backing the rights of the parents:

“The Holy Father follows with affection and commotion the situation of Charlie Gard, and expresses his own closeness to his parents. ... He prays for them, wishing that their desire to accompany and care for their own child to the end will be respected.”

It's impossible to understand this story without a clear presentation of the parental rights claim, which clashes with the rights articulated by UK officials and a specific set of medical experts. There are two essential points of view.

Editors at The New York Times know this, of course. They know this because one of their own columnists -- while expressing his convictions -- clearly described the standoff. However, it's interesting to note that the latest Times news story on this case covers the arguments of the state, but contains zero clear references to the parental-rights arguments. The pope is mentioned, for example, but the content of his words was ignored.

In other words, the Times ran two editorials: one an op-ed column and the other, alas, an unbalanced, advocacy news report in the news pages.

Columnist Ross Douthat opened his essay like this:

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Think like an editor: What happens if Trump's own plane takes Charlie Gard to Vatican?

Think like an editor: What happens if Trump's own plane takes Charlie Gard to Vatican?

The Charlie Gard story rolls on, of course, now super-charged by those magic words that inspire headlines -- "Donald Trump" and "Pope Francis."

It's interesting (and to me a bit depressing) the degree to which American media really seem to think this is story driven by American questions, which is what happens when a presidential tweet reshapes everything.

After recording this week's Crossroads podcast -- click here to tune that in -- it hit me that, in a way, I may be guilty of the same kind of thing, since I keep seeing this story through a religious-liberty lens.

True enough, podcast host Todd Wilken and I did spend quite a bit of time talking about church-state cases here in America that some are comparing to the Charlie Gard case. I'm talking about the agonizing court battles over the starvation death of Terri Schiavo, debates about the rights of Pentecostal parents who insist on faith healing (alone) and the complex legal battles over Jehovah's Witnesses and their doctrines rejecting blood transfusions.

However, the point I kept making was not that laws in England and the European Union should be the same as America. What interests me is why journalists don't seem to be interested in explaining to readers how religious-liberty concepts on the other side of the Atlantic affect this painful case.

A news cycle ago, we got a clue that we may have more coverage ahead that could deal with this. Consider this from a Sky News report:

Great Ormond Street Hospital says “claims of new evidence” in the treatment of Charlie Gard have prompted it to seek a new hearing at the High Court. In a statement, the hospital said: “We have just met with Charlie’s parents to inform them of this decision and will continue to keep them fully appraised of the situation.
“Two international hospitals and their researchers have communicated to us as late as the last 24 hours that they have fresh evidence about their proposed experimental treatment. “And we believe, in common with Charlie’s parents, it is right to explore this evidence.”

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Spot the religion ghosts: Who loves Charlie Gard the most, his parents or state officials?

Spot the religion ghosts: Who loves Charlie Gard the most, his parents or state officials?

Like millions of other people in the social-media universe, I have been following the tragic story of the infant Charlie Gard (see http://www.charliesfight.org) and the struggle between his British parents and various government and medical elites over his future.

What is there -- journalistically speaking -- to say about mainstream media coverage of this complex story?

The easiest, and certainly the least surprising, thing to say is that a sad story about a baby's fight for life is way more interesting to gatekeepers in major media when Citizen Donald Trump and Pope Francis enter the drama. #SURPRISE

So now we have some pretty in-depth coverage of the story of infant Charlie, his parents and their supporters around the world. Hold that thought.

If you have followed this story closely you know there are religious issues at the heart of this crisis. There are religion ghosts here. The big question: Who loves Charlie the most, his parents or the state? Who should get to make the final decisions about the long-shot efforts to save his life?

The parents are clearly motivated by religious beliefs and want to fight on, defending his right to life. The odds are long, but they have faith in both God and science.

Government leaders, backed by some (not all) medical experts, say they are defending the infant's quality of life and that the state has the ultimate right to end his pain and suffering.

One of the strongest points in a major New York Times story on this case is that it stresses that money is not the issue. The parents have a vast network of supporters -- now including Trump and the Vatican's pediatric hospital -- to help fund further, desperate treatments.

So what is the issue here? The big question appears to be when government experts can trump parental rights and, yes, religious liberty. Thus, I did find it disconcerting that readers did not learn the names of Charlie's parents -- Connie Yates and Chris Gard -- until 650 words or so into the Times story.

Still, the material that made it into this report is strong.

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