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British baby Charlie Gard to be evaluated by NY doctor

LONDON — A British judge said Friday that Charlie Gard, the 11-month-old baby with a rare, terminal medical condition who has been the center of an ongoing legal battle, can be evaluated by a doctor from the United States.

Charlie will be examined early next week, in London, by Dr. Michio Hirano, a neurologist at New York’s Columbia University Medical Center. Hirano is developing an experimental therapy that has been used on at least one American patient with a similar but less severe mitochondrial disease. He specializes in myopathies and other neuromuscular diseases.

Charlie was born in August with mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome, a progressive disease that causes muscle weakness and loss of motor skills, leaving those who have it unable to stand, walk, eat, talk and eventually breathe. Charlie will die from his illness, his doctors have said.

His parents, Chris Gard and Connie Yates, successfully raised money in hopes of bringing their son to the US for an experimental treatment, but doctors at the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, where Charlie has been since October, argued in court that it was not in their patient’s best interest.

After a series of hearings and appeals in several courts, the European Court of Human Rights decided on June 30 that the hospital could discontinue life support to Charlie and he could not be transferred.

The emotional case went to the UK High Court this week after the hospital requested a new hearing to consider “new evidence relating to potential treatment for his condition.”

On Thursday, Hirano told Justice Nicholas Francis that the baby’s MRI scan did not necessarily indicate structural damage to the brain. He said there was an “11% to 56% chance of clinically meaningful improvement” in muscular function with the proposed treatment. Hirano added that keeping Charlie on a ventilator would not cause him harm because he did not seem to be in any significant pain.

The Great Ormond Street Hospital told the court their position remains unchanged, that every medical treatment option had already been explored, and that any experimental treatment would be unjustified.

In addition to evaluating Charlie next week, Hirano will meet with doctors and others who have been caring for him. Francis will then consider information from Hirano to inform a decision from the court, which he has said he hopes to render by July 25.