Charlie Gard: A Nazi murder campaign? No, this was the sad death of a desperately ill little boy
Bernadette Smyth's linking of Charlie Gard to Hitler's euthanasia programme repellent, says Fionola Meredith
In what possible world could you compare the tragic death of a terminally ill child, who had received specialist care in a leading London children's hospital, to the Nazi plan to exterminate disabled people?
Most of us would never conceive of such an extreme, repellent and profoundly offensive idea, which so callously disrespects the memory of Charlie Gard, the little boy who recently died after a lengthy legal battle over his medical treatment between his parents and Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH).
But Bernadette Smyth, the founder and director of Northern Ireland anti-abortion group Precious Life, not only thought of this repulsive analogy, she decided to share it with the world. Writing on social media, she said: "May the death of baby Charlie Gard be a warning to all people in the UK that the Nazi program Aktion T4 is alive and well."
Aktion T4 was a programme of mass murder designed to eliminate disabled people from the Aryan 'master race'. Propaganda films and newsreels sought to present the disabled community as useless, expensive to care for and incapable of productive work.
Even maths textbooks circulated in school classrooms asked pupils to calculate how many wounded soldiers could be treated if hospital beds were not occupied by disabled people. It is estimated that around 275,000 disabled people were murdered by the Nazis.
By contrast, Charlie Gard died from a rare genetic condition after doctors did their very best for him. This is a distressing case, as well as a highly complex medical and moral one. But there are some basic facts.
Charlie's parents Connie Yates and Chris Gard were quite understandably desperate for their child to receive an experimental approach, nucleoside treatment (NBT), in the hope of an improvement in his condition.
GOSH initially explored the possibility of attempting this treatment despite the fact that no animal or human with Charlie's specific diagnosis had been treated with it.
But after Charlie experienced a number of seizures the entire treating team at GOSH formed the view that he had suffered irreversible neurological damage and that, as a result, any chance NBT might have had of benefiting Charlie had gone.
What's more, the GOSH team had evidence the child was suffering, and was enduring an existence "devoid of all benefit and pleasure". The High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court all agreed, ruling that life support should end to allow Charlie to die with dignity.
After she made her remark, Bernadette Smyth was invited on to the BBC Nolan show to discuss it. I was invited on to the programme to respond.
For two mornings running I was ready to challenge her. But each time the Precious Life director backed out. Instead, we heard Dawn McAvoy from the Northern Ireland Evangelical Alliance talk about how "people, out of compassion, can make statements that potentially are not helpful".
But I see no compassion in Smyth's Nazi analogy. The implicit slur against those who made vital decisions about Charlie's care is, to my mind, obscene as well as highly irresponsible given the torrent of abuse and death threats that GOSH staff have received.
Little Charlie Gard, who suffered so much, should not be appropriated as a weapon in the so-called "pro-life" war.
The best interests of the child, not the parents - despite their terrible anguish - must be paramount in distressing cases like this. That is why Alban Maginness, writing in this newspaper, was wrong to ask: "If there was a chance of preserving the child's life (through alternative treatment), shouldn't that option have been preferred?" Mr Maginness is not a neurologist. Charlie was deemed by international neurology experts at GOSH to be suffering. Does Mr Maginness believe that Charlie's suffering should have been prolonged by treatment that, due to irreversible brain damage, could not work? Is this what being pro-life means?
I would dismiss Smyth's remark as nothing more than a piece of nasty nonsense best ignored but for the fact that this woman and her views hold disproportionate sway over many Northern Ireland politicians, especially in the DUP, SDLP and TUV.
She is the former secretary to the All-Party Pro-Life Group at the Assembly.
A photograph from last year shows her beaming at the centre of a cluster of SDLP MLAs at the Great Hall in Stormont. Just last month DUP MP Ian Paisley tweeted a picture of himself and Smyth having an "excellent meeting".
It horrifies me that someone who could link the death of a terminally ill and brain-damaged child to a Nazi mass murder campaign is so close to power.