As I write this, Charlie is still alive and at the hospital with his family. There has been a lot of talk about this case. Is it about healthcare rationing? Is it about the ethics of life support and end-of-life care? Is it about parental vs. governmental rights? Is it about how to discern risks vs. benefits in healthcare decisions? Certainly it has implications for all of these issues, which can get quite complicated.
Though I’m tempted to comment on all these aspects, I think at its core this young child teaches us about the dignity of life even in the midst of suffering. Despite persecutions, these parents are willing to suffer for the sake of their child. They are willing to allow their child to suffer in the hope of healing and joy. As we look at suffering from our medical/spiritual lens, we see that God, too, asks us to suffer; but the suffering is not an end in itself, it is a step on the road to resurrection. (“Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” – Colossians 1:24)
This principle, when grasped, can help bring into focus a lot of medical issues on both ends of the life-spectrum. That is what Charlie brings together for us – the end-of-life questions usually faced by the elderly, and the beginning-of-life questions that have come when I’ve accompanied couples who are considering abortion. Most sick babies with a difficult diagnosis don’t even make it this far because they are aborted in the womb. A huge justification for the abortion is that it will help avoid suffering for the mom and/or the child; but, as experience teaches, we humans end up creating more suffering along the way. In reality, we don’t get rid of the disease by killing people, children, and the unborn who have that disease. We hate the disease, but love the patient. We Do No Harm.
It is our unwillingness to suffer and see a purpose in suffering that is at the root of the abortion problem. But the way to resurrection only comes through suffering. We try to alleviate suffering; but never at the expense of terminating the life.
Little Charlie and his parents’ suffering is worth it. It gives us an opportunity to help, to care, to love, to comfort, to walk with – this is the mystery of medicine as mercy, compassion, and true CARE. The suffering is worth it for the hope of healing and justice that we pray for; and, barring that, also worth it for the hope of an eternal destiny with Christ through His Mercy. It makes me think of the old Sting song about how we all share the same biology regardless of ideology, but loving our children would bring us together. We are part of the human family and all share the same obligation to support this one little boy.