The archbishop of Canterbury: my heart breaks for Charlie Gard family

The archbishop of Canterbury has spoken of his deep sympathy for the family of Charlie Gard, the 11-month-old boy who died last week after a long legal battle, as well as the doctors who treated him and the judges who presided over his case.

Justin Welby has evoked the memory of his own daughter, Johanna, who died when she was less than a year old, as he said that the world can not be explained by rationality alone.

Welby was responding to comments from Prof Richard Dawkins last week in the primacy of evidence and reason, not emotion, when making big decisions.

“It is well known that one of our own children died, and standing next to the bed, and he died when the life support was withdrawn. And I think that, in a case like this, I’m not going to say anything, except that my heart breaks for the parents,” Welby told the BBC Radio 4 programme Today, Monday.

As he said in evidence-based decision making was important to him, he cited the Gard case as an example of that could only be part of the appropriate strategy.

Timeline: Charlie Gard and their parents in a legal battle to save him

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Speaking on the same program last week, Dawkins said that people should avoid voting with his gut and adopt a more scientific approach. “Of course, we all think with our gut a lot of the time. But when we’re making important decisions, such as when we are with the right to vote [or] when we’re making important decisions, I do not think that the instinct to think rationally. Search for evidence one way or the other; in spite of that.”

Dawkins said that the scientific method should be applied beyond the laboratory, adding that “the evidence is that the only reason for believing anything about the real world.”

However, Welby said that by itself cannot answer all the big questions. “The world is not all materialism. It is not entirely made up of what you can experience. There are things that you deal with every day – the emotions of all love, all the value of people, around how we treat those who are weaker and stronger where the mere rationality, even in the evidence-based rationality, that I have as a really important thing, does not answer the question properly.”

Referring to the Gard case, which was in the center of a long legal battle over the care of the child, Welby said that any parent of the “struggle for the life of your child as long as you could”, and added: “we know what it feels like.”

The judges and the doctors who treated Charlie at the Great Ormond Street hospital came to the abuse as the case progressed through the courts, but the archbishop said that every person involved was worthy of sympathy because they wanted the best for Charlie.

“I’m sure you have seen the depth of your being about doing things well and is a very good example of that sometimes rational, evidence-based thinking is not the whole story. The doctors were not operating on that. They cry when they lose a patient and especially a child.

“I just feel a deep sorrow for the whole thing and feel deeply, deeply, deeply for Charlie Gard parents and to all the rest of the people involved in the most tragic case. Sometimes, we want to reach to clean, quick conclusions and it is only to make a pause and to grieve.”