Indi Gregory had a right to live
A British hospital’s spiteful actions and the danger of overbearing health authorities
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Last weekend, a British hospital sentenced a baby girl to death. Or, as the papers framed it, she was “allowed to die.” Little Indi Gregory was born with a rare mitochondrial condition that kept her on life support for her whole short life. She also required multiple other life-saving surgeries shortly after her birth in February. But when she was eight months old, the Nottingham hospital caring for her decided that care was “futile.” Her parents disagreed.
A wrenching and ultimately losing court battle ensued. The family was represented by Christian Concern, an advocacy group also known for taking on cases where British Christians’ free speech is under attack. But Indi’s father Dean isn’t even “religious” by his account, though he says he is now feeling “the pull of Hell” for the first time. He said that if their daughter was “brain dead,” they would have accepted the decision, but she was still conscious, responsive, and mobile.
The fight took an unexpected and briefly hopeful twist when Italy granted little Indi Italian citizenship so she could be treated outside the British medical system. But the hospital wouldn’t accept this generosity. In fact, they wouldn’t even allow her to go home to die.
With Daily Wire host Michael Knowles, Dean said he’s spoken to American parents whose babies also have Indi’s condition, except they’ve been allowed to live. He believes Indi’s losing battle is downstream of Britain’s broken socialized healthcare system. There’s some truth to this, but the hospital’s spitefulness goes above and beyond a utilitarian argument from scarce resources. Once they had decided what was “best” for Indi, they were determined to make sure “the best” happened no matter what, even if another option would be no financial skin off their nose.
This proves that, ultimately, this case isn’t really about economics. It’s about control. According to this report, she was given an oxygen mask for “a fixed period” after extubation, but doctors were ordered not to resuscitate if her breathing stopped again. It was later reported that police surrounded Indi’s escort from the hospital to the hospice, where she stopped breathing during the night but recovered on her own.
As Knowles puts it, the scandal of this story is that it’s not a scandal anymore. By now, it’s business as usual for cases like Indi’s.
As far back as 2000, a British hospital made a similar choice to override the parents of Siamese twins, who wanted to take the babies to their native country of Malta. As this article awkwardly puts it, the parents’ misgivings about the operation were “moulded by strong cultural and religious beliefs.” In other words, they were Christians. But the operation went forward anyway, condemning the more dependent of the twin babies to die. More recent cases include Alfie Evans and Charlie Gard, who suffered from the same mitochondrial condition as Indi. “As a parent in the UK,” Dean says to Knowles, “when you go into the court you’ve got no rights, you’re set up to fail. Everybody’s against you.”
While America hasn’t yet made its hospital system an arm of the state, American patients can also find themselves at the mercy of paternalistic authorities who will side with death over life. Most famously, American conservatives will remember how Terri Schiavo was cut off even from food and hydration at her husband’s wishes, while her parents begged for her life. She was judged to be in a “persistent vegetative state,” a murky and much-abused descriptor. Similarly, the phrase “brain death” shouldn’t just be uncritically accepted, though this was moot in Indi’s case.
With all end-of-life cases, we must recognize that we are frequently dealing with medical and legal authority structures whose decisions are not guided by a Christian ethic of the body and the soul. The medical establishment makes life and death decisions every day. But Christians understand that there is a still higher authority. This is why we should oppose legislation that would make it easier for temporal authority to be abused. Obama’s infamous “death panels” were dismissed as “fake news,” but as Steve Forbes writes, their spirit is “alive and well.” Christians are the last bulwark against that spirit, fighting for life against an encroaching culture of death.
For all his anguish, Dean Gregory tells an Italian newspaper that he concluded “There can be no hell without heaven,” and there could be no devil without God. Despite having no religion, he and his wife Clare chose to have Indi baptized in her final days. If there was a heaven, they reasoned, they wanted their baby girl to go there.
Indi Gregory was reported dead early Monday morning. Even in her death, she was a living witness to the grace of God in giving her life. We pray that her parents are comforted in their mourning. May her memory be a blessing, and may light perpetual shine upon her.
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