At just 11 months, Gard suffers from a rare degenerative brain disease called infantile onset encephalomyopathic mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome, or MDDS.
With only 16 known cases in the world, the disease causes extensive brain damage. While Charlie Gard does have some brain function, he requires assistance to breathe, has periodic seizures, and is not expected to develop sophisticated mental abilities without treatment.
Gard's parents were able to raise nearly $2 million in order to take him to the United States for an experimental treatment. Some doctors have been skeptical about the results, however, other patients currently undergoing the treatment have shown significant improvement.
But despite having the funds for the treatment, UK courts have ruled against the possibility, arguing that further treatment would cause harm to Gard. In addition, the European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that the Great Ormond Street Hospital, where the infant is staying, is not required to keep him on life support.
When his parents asked to take their son home to die, their request was denied. Gard's life support machines were to be turned off Friday, but the courts allowed the parents to have more time with their child before his death.
Pope Francis' statement follows an earlier response to the case from the head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, who while arguing for the defense of life at all stages, including during illness, appeared sympathetic to the court's ruling, saying "aggressive medical procedures that are disproportionate to any expected results or excessively burdensome to the patient or the family" must be avoided.