The tragedy of Charlie Gard.

There’s a lot in the news that I can happily gloss over – political point-scoring, financial shenanigans and most of what is happening in sport. But the Charlie Gard story has gripped me in the same way that it has gripped every parent. And it is inescapable. If it’s not in the headlines, his parents will pop up on a chat show, commentators will be live-tweeting from the latest court hearing, or my Facebook timeline will be filling up with blue hearts and pleas for me to ‘Pray for Charlie’.

I don’t pray, but that little boy and the plight of his parents – and the hospital staff who are doing their utmost for him – is in my thoughts. And not just mine. The Pope and The Donald have weighed into the argument too.

So what do we know? We know that Charlie is a little boy, yet to reach his first birthday, who is gravely ill. He is being kept alive by life support machines and is unable to move or hear. Charlie’s doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital say he has severe, irreversible brain damage and that he shows signs of being in pain. They don’t wish to prolong his life. Unable to reach agreement on the matter with his parents, they applied to the courts to switch off his life support.

Charlie’s parents are understandably very upset. They believe there is hope for their son, and have fought the hospital through the courts. They wish their son to travel to America to try an experimental new treatment – so new that it has not been tested on any patients with Charlie’s condition – which they hope may halt the deterioration of the disease. They believe he deserves a chance.

The intervention of the Pope (the Vatican’s Children’s Hospital apparently have ‘new evidence’ to bring to the case) and Donald Trump, along with hundreds of thousands who have signed petitions and campaigned to ‘save Charlie’, has brought Great Ormond Street Hospital back to court this week to hear the ‘new evidence’ of what that treatment could do for their tiny, helpless patient.

Whatever the outcome in this case there is unlikely to be a happy outcome for Charlie. His parents deserve every sympathy for the situation in which they find themselves; no parent should ever have to contemplate switching off life support for their child. It is every parent’s duty to fight for their child as hard as they can and for as long as it takes. But there must be limits.

Those limits must be when doctors – whose very purpose is to preserve life – are saying that they can do no more. And when medical staff, highly trained, professional and ethical, are saying that the time has come to end the suffering. Then it is time for Charlie parents to spend time with their son, make peace with their situation, and let him slip away.

I cannot imagine being in that situation – I hope with all of my being that it never happens. And I can’t imagine that Charlie’s parents could have done more for him than they have already. They have loved him. They have fought for him – publicly, globally, and with every piece of ammunition they could find. If the Vatican Hospital’s new evidence suggests that Charlie travelling to the US is in his best interests, the courts may decide this week to accede to his parents’ wishes.  But I doubt that they will.

This week’s court ruling might be the sign Chris Gard and Connie Yates need to draw a line, to quietly thank us for our interest, but ask us to now respect their privacy as a family. And for them to say their final goodbyes.

What’s in a name?

Think of the name ‘Ebenezer’ and what image is conjured up? The vast majority of us will think of Dickens’ creation Scrooge, the man who was visited by the ghosts of Christmases past, present and yet to come, and turned from a miserly old curmudgeon into a kind and generous soul. Ravers from the 1990s might think of Ebenezer Goode, the name of a song by The Shamen, but if you are from Wick you might think of the shortest street in the world – Ebenezer Place.

I was in Wick recently and stayed in Mackays Hotel, who proudly have their address as 1 Ebenezer Place. But it wasn’t until I bumped into Mackays’ owner Murray Lamont this week that he told me the history of the street’s name.

Mackays Hotel itself has been through a series of name changes – including The Temperance Hotel during the years Wick was a ‘dry town’ between 1921 and 1947. It was built by a local businessman Alexander Sinclair in 1883, and to thank the people of the town for the kindness and care that they had shown to him over the years, asked if he could name the ‘corner’ of the hotel between Union Street and River Street in their honour. His wish was granted, and he had the sign ‘Ebenezer Place’ installed – Ebenezer being the Hebrew word for kindness and care.

Guinness World Records officially measured the street a decade ago – it measured up to being the shortest in the world. And if there were records for a street having the best name? I’d vote for that too.

Ebenezer Place, Wick.


SUBSCRIBE to receive a weekly email with a link to my most recent column – just enter your email address in the wee widget on the left hand side of my home page.

This column first appeared in six SPP Group newspapers week ended 14th July 2017.