The ongoing ordeal of Charlie Gard and his parents has exposed to international scrutiny the extent to which the authority of parents has become completely suborned to the state, which now has the power of life and death over children.
The situation, in which doctors, legislators, and every level of the judiciary, up to and including the farcically misnamed European Court of Human Rights, have linked arms to deny two parents first the right to seek medical treatment for their child, at no expense to the state, and now even the right meet his court-ordered death at home, has made headlines across the world.
Yet far from being some horrific aberration or strange product of extreme circumstances, the judicially sanctioned death of Charlie Gard is part of a crescendo of cultural change in the West which has effectively destroyed the concepts of parental rights and authority. In fact, one of the clearest signs alerting us to the situation came with the conviction of Jon Platt early this year. Mr Platt was convicted of the “crime” of removing his daughter from her state school without local authority authorization.
While putting the plight of Mr Platt, who took his daughter to Disney World, next to that of the Gard family might seem perverse, in fact they exactly illustrate the same terrible reality: in this country, and many if not most others in the West, there has been a total inversion of the relationship between parents and public “services”. Far from being at the service of the public, in many respects government administrators, doctors and teachers have become the masters of those at whose service they are meant to be, especially when it comes to children.
Indeed, the state has come to have a determinative interest in the education and upbringing of children. This brave new world in which we find ourselves is a total inversion of the natural order, and of Catholic teaching. Gravissimum educationes, the Vatican II declaration on Christian education, calls the right of parents to bear primary and ultimate responsibility for the education of their children “inalienable” and insists that they enjoy the “fullest liberty” in that regard. In Familiaris consortio, St John Paul II speaks of the “irreplaceable and inalienable” right and duty of parents towards their children which is “incapable of being entirely delegated to or usurped by others.”
This concept of parental authority being either usurped or delegated away appears to be a balance of opposites, but in fact, the one has grown from the other in our society. The right of parents to avail themselves of state support when necessary has, over the course of the last century, become virtual dependence: only the very wealthy can afford private education in this country. Dependence has, inevitably, led to the transfer of primary and ultimate authority over children from parents to the state. The state no longer “supports” parents, it evaluates, and if it deems it necessary, replaces them. What begins with criminalising parents for term time holidays rapidly descends into police in riot gear kicking in doors and dragging terrified children to school and parents to prison. If you think I am exaggerating, google what happens to home-schoolers in Germany.
The situation is by no means limited to education. A recent law passed in Ontario gives the government the right to remove children if their parents reject the poisonous pseudoscience of gender theory. Indeed, more and more it is becoming a legal requirement that parents share the prevailing ideologies of the state. In England couples have, for years, been denied the right to adopt or foster children if they hold views unacceptable to local authorities, like being an Evangelical Christian, or voting UKIP.
Placed within this wider context, in which parents only care for or teach their own children under sufferance of the state, the death sentence faced by Charlie Gard is far less surprising but no less tragic or outrageous.
In 1947, the Harvard sociologist Carle Zimmerman published a book titled Family and Civilization. In it, he traced the rise and fall of every great civilization and demonstrated that it was causally linked to the decline of the strength and authority of the family in society. He concluded that there was an observable and predictable cycle in which the role of family is gradually suborned to the state, marriage and parenthood are stripped of permanence and authority, and society becomes ever more atomized, until it dissolves entirely, leaving nothing between the individual and the state. What we are left facing is less Huxley’s Brave New World, and more a new dark age, until the family reasserts itself as the natural and essential centre of all human society.
Zimmerman predicted, even in 1947, the delusional cultural posture of “progress” which would celebrate and accompany the dissolution of the family in society. If the great march of secularism in the West has taught us anything, it is that progress seems to claim the lives of an extraordinary number of innocent babies.