THE picture used in many of yesterday’s papers showed little Charlie Gard lying peacefully with a cute toy monkey at his side, nasal tubes the only sign that anything is amiss.

Thankfully, the wee soul is oblivious to the awful and ever-increasing tumult that surrounds his short life, as his heartbroken parents continue to battle through the courts to be allowed to take him to the US for what they see as potentially life-saving treatment.

Doctors treating the 11-month-old at Great Ormond Street Hospital have wanted for some time to switch off the life-support machine that keeps the infant, who suffers from a rare and incurable genetic condition called MDDS, alive. They don’t believe the treatment has any chance of benefitting Charlie, think he may be in pain, and say his suffering should end now, with dignity, as judges previously ruled. Today, the American physician offering the treatment (who admits it has only a 10 per cent chance of improving Charlie’s health) will meet with the child’s medical team to discuss the case.

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The one thing all sides agree on is that MDDS is the most hideous of conditions, having left Charlie brain damaged, blind and deaf, unable to move or breathe on his own. Beyond that, however, the gap between the two sides becomes seemingly wider by the day, with the awful, often bizarre reality of such cases only exacerbated by the court proceedings, which mixes complex ethical debates about life and death with the minutiae of hospital procedures.

And, following Donald Trump’s cruel, politically motivated intervention – “look how bad the NHS is in comparison to my great healthcare bill!” - the media hype has become ever more frenzied, thus bringing out the nutters; how awful that Charlie’s parents were forced to take time out of their day to condemn the threats of violence being made against the doctors looking after their son and the judges doing the ruling.

I certainly wouldn’t want to be one of the latter, faced with this most impossible of legal, moral and ethical dilemmas. How, after all, do you balance the wishes of a loving parent with the advice of caring doctors and come to a decision that represents what is best for this particular little boy at this juncture in time?

I can genuinely see both sides. You would need a heart of stone not to empathise with Charlie’s parents, an ordinary young couple caught in a legal nightmare, and their wish to try every last treatment that holds even a one per cent chance of helping their boy. In some ways it seems both wrong and cruel to expect parents to make a decision that will result in the death of their child – they are, after all, programmed to do exactly the opposite, to protect their offspring regardless of the circumstances. Every day spent in court is a day away from their precious son, time with him that is clearly very much of the essence.

I also feel for Charlie’s doctors, however, portrayed as heartless and cold when I don’t doubt that they care very deeply about this child, having built up a relationship with him over a long period, doing everything in their power to make him better, but failing due to the severity of Charlie’s condition. They, of course, are not allowed to explain in public, in human language, the difficulty of their predicament.

The other aspect of this case that really gets to me, however, is the worrying portents it contains for the NHS, which is increasingly becoming a victim of its own success even as the future in terms of both funding and demography looks increasingly bleak.

Medical science has gained increasing knowledge about genetic syndromes like that which afflicts Charlie and can keep patients alive for far longer. The same goes for premature babies, which can, thanks to the advancing skills of medical teams and the equipment at their disposal, survive gestation times that would have seemed impossible only a few years ago.

What doctors cannot do yet, however, is fix these children and prevent or cure the terrible and severe disabilities that can result, the sort that make us question their quality of life and that of their families.

Sadly, I think we can expect more cases like that of Charlie in future, as medical science advances but inevitably reveals new limitations, at the same time as our expectations of the NHS and modern medicine become ever more inflated and unrealistic. The situation is compounded by the fact that we all now have medical libraries at our fingertips, as well as direct access to those who would take advantage of the cruel predicaments we or our loved ones find ourselves in, by offering false hope.

Meanwhile, with crowdfunding campaigns on the increase, the NHS comes under ever more pressure to fund experimental treatments at a time when it can’t really afford some of the proven ones.

Modern medicine offers us so many possibilities. But we should remember that it rarely performs miracles. The knowledge of death is what makes us human. But, as Charlie’s parents show, so too is our lust for life at any cost.