Charlie Gard’s parents endure volatile UK court hearing

No decision reached today in emotional hearing

By Kathy Ostrowski Policy and Research Director, Kansans for Life

Charlie Gard’s parents have released this heartbreaking image of their terminally ill son as they spend their last few hours with him (Picture: Featureworld)

(Picture: Featureworld)

A decision whether Chris Gard and Connie Yates, will be allowed to take their rapidly failing son Charlie to the United States to obtain experimental treatment will be held off at least another day or two after a hearing this afternoon in the UK High Court of Justice Nicholas Francis.

That hearing was not without fireworks and a dramatic exit by the parents who vehemently insisted their views had been misrepresented by Justice Francis.

No final court ruling is expected for days, for at least two reasons:

1) further measurement of Charlie’s head–to verify/repudiate brain loss– was ordered to be provided tomorrow. The hospital is insisting that there has been no growth in the size of Charlie’s skull over the past three months since Justice Francis gave the hospital permission to disconnect Charlie’s ventilator. The parents say flatly that is not so.

2) an interdisciplinary panel is now to be convened immediately to attempt to bridge the gap between what the hospital is contending and what the parents and other outside experts on their side are saying.

Charlie is very ill. He has an exceptionally rare and debilitating chromosomal condition –encephalomyopathic mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome (MDDS)–in which his cells cannot replenish essential energy. However a natural compound, orally administered, has shown some success as a treatment in the United States. Chris and Connie have been working feverishly since January to get their son to the U.S. to receive that alternative treatment.

New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center and one other unnamed medical facility have offered to treat Charlie, either as an inpatient or by shipping the experimental nucleoside therapy drug to London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH). But GOSH insists that the therapy has only worked on a variant of Charlie’s condition and would be pointless, if not also painful to the eleven month old child.

COURT VOLATILITY

Justice Francis emphasized going in that Thursday’s proceeding was focused solely on new medical developments relevant to Charlie’s current status.

GOSH had requested the hearing after British Prime Minister Theresa May told Parliament she was confident the hospital would not ignore new developments. GOSH subsequently acted to request this hearing after receiving two letters – one from seven doctors and another from an attorney representing Charlie’s parents – claiming the chances of the treatment being successful were higher than previously thought.

Grant Armstrong, the parents’ lawyer in today’s hearing, presented testimony from medical experts that the chances were between 90 and 100% that the treatment being sought in the U.S. could “cross the blood-brain barrier” with as much as a 60% chance of Charlie experiencing muscular improvement, and “meaningful brain recovery.”

Fireworks erupted two hours into the hearing, however, when the Justice referenced previous comments to the effect that Charlie’s parents would not want their son to continue living in his current condition were there no prospect of improvement.

According to press accounts, (the Guardian, CNN and AP) Chris Gard punched a table, and Connie exclaimed,

“I never said that! We said he’s not in suffering and in pain. If he was we wouldn’t be up here fighting for that. “

The Justice attempted to clarify that one or the other of the parents had said it, but the couple abruptly left the courtroom. “I thought this [hearing] was supposed to be independent [impartial],” Chris said,

The hearing broke for lunch shortly afterwards and Charlie’s parents subsequently returned. Justice Francis apologized for the earlier conflict, assuring them that the transcript of what they said has been found and they won’t be misquoted. What exactly he meant by that–for example whether he was retreating from what he had said–was not clear.

OVERSEAS EXPERT REBUTTAL

Questioning of the United States professor of neurology and specialist in mitochondrial disease took place via separate audio and video links. (Under court order, none of the medical specialists are named.)

As tweeted by Sky News reporter, Jim Old who was in the courtroom, the unidentified expert said this treatment was the compassionate option. A model using mice genetically altered to match Charlie’s exact genes wouldn’t be available for at least six months.

The expert also pointed to the results so far as showing five out of nine patients with a nearly identical condition were able to reduce the amount of time they spent on a ventilator by eight hours a day or more, and that one patient was weaned off the ventilator altogether.

He also called into question GOSH’s assertion that Charlie had brain damage, saying that MRI and EEG scans indicated “disorganization of brain activity but that does not necessarily indicate structural damage.”

Ultimately, this U.S. professor rebutted the assessment put to the court in the past that the chances of improving Charlie’s condition were “vanishingly small.”

After some long consultations among the attorneys, the Justice announced the need for a multi-disciplinary meeting to take place “in a matter of days” in an attempt to hammer out a “consensus” opinion on how to proceed.

Friday’s court session is set for 2 pm to assess how close both parties are to arranging that meeting.

PARENTS’ ORDEAL CONTINUES

Gard family spokesman, Alasdair Seton Marsden, relayed that Connie and Chris are working under trying conditions “just to give Charlie a chance”…they feel strongly that, “if he’s still fighting, we’re still fighting.”

According to an interview on Fox & Friends this morning with Mr. Marsden, the special compound that Charlie’s parents want him to receive would merely be added to his feeding tube and medical advisors expect a 2-8 week timeline for seeing results. “It’s an additive found in corn flakes, how controversial can that be?” remarked the interviewer.

Mr. Marsden expressed the couple’s deep gratitude for the U.S. hospital offers of aid and the support from President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence. He revealed that an Air Ambulance had been ready for weeks to usher the family overseas and that the new petition in support of Charlie (citizenGO.org) was racing toward one million signatures.