Social Media and Ethical Uncertainty

The recent passing of British infant Charlie Gard has raised a number of issues concerning biomedical ethics in the social media age.

Primarily, the situation has highlighted the complexities of medical professionals maintaining confidentiality in today’s “court of public opinion” (Wilkinson, 2017).

Heath News Review (Joyce, 2017) recently published an article which states that media coverage of Charlie’s story was one-sided.

They argue this was because the healthcare specialists involved were unable to publicly comment about the case due to privacy obligations (Joyce, 2017).

Joyce (2017) describes the situation as “a perfect viral storm”, involving “…a President, a Prime Minister, and the Pope”.

This refers to tweets about Charlie by US President Donald Trump and Pope Francis.

This lack of balanced media coverage about Charlie’s case could be seen as violating journalistic ethics, of which truthfulness and accuracy are key features to credibility (Bainbridge, Goc, & Tynan, 2015, p. 387).

It could also be argued that the ethical uncertainty surrounding the situation extends beyond those directly involved to the general public.

Could it be considered unethical for social media to have been used in any capacity with regards to Charlie Gard?

Indeed, it seems that some people used Charlie’s case for their own political agendas, such as the “…pro-life [movement], libertarianism, and single-payer health systems…” (Wilkinson, 2017).

It appears that this ulterior motive opinion is shared by others, with The New York Times (Bilefsky, 2017) saying that the case “…spiral[ed] out of control… playing out on Facebook and Twitter…”.

Charlie Gard’s case should be taken as a lesson: know your facts, or risk jumping to potentially harmful conclusions.


Bainbridge, J., Goc, N., & Tynan, L. (2015). Media and journalism: New approaches to theory and practice (3rd ed.). Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press.

Bilefsky, D. (2017, July 28). Charlie Gard dies, leaving a legacy of thorny ethics questions. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Bourque, A. (2012). 5 steps to social media ethics. Retrieved from

Donald J. Trump. (2017, July 3). If we can help little #CharlieGard, as per our friends in the U.K. and the Pope, we would be delighted to do so. [Twitter post]. Retrieved from

Joyce, M. (2017, August 3). The 51-week-life of Charlie Gard: Lessons from the news coverage. Health News Review. Retrieved from

Pope Francis. (2017, July 28). I entrust little Charlie to the Father and pray for his parents and all those who loved him. [Twitter post]. Retrieved from

Wilkinson, D. (2017). Restoring balance to “best interest” disputes in children. BMJ358, 1-2. doi: 10.1136/bmj.j3666


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