UK royal baby: Will England see a King Louis Arthur Charles?

Prince William and Kate Middleton have welcomed their third child to the royal family. Find out where the new royal baby falls in the line of succession to the throne.

Prince William and Kate Middleton — Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge for the posh and proper among us — have welcomed their third child to the royal family. At 8 pounds, 7 ounces, King Louis Arthur Charles’s arrival was announced to the world with the customary framed notice placed outside of Buckingham Palace, as well as the not-quite-as-customary Monday morning tweet (which happened this time around).

As is usual when a new royal arrives on the scene, people are wondering where the baby will fall in the line of succession to the throne of the United Kingdom. What are the chances that we’ll see the crowning of King Louis Arthur Charles?

A relatively straight line of succession

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 23: Photographers work as Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, depart the Lindo Wing with their newborn son Prince Louis of Cambridge at St Mary's Hospital on April 23, 2018, in London, England. The Duchess safely delivered a boy at 11:01 am, weighing 8lbs 7oz, who will be fifth in line to the throne. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Thanks to the stability of the modern Monarchy, succession is a far less divisive process today than it used to be.

The current monarch is Queen Elizabeth II. At 92 years old, she has reigned an impressive 66 years, making her tenure the longest in the country’s history. The heir apparent is her firstborn son, Charles, Prince of Wales. Next in line is Charles’s firstborn son, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge. After William comes his and Middleton’s firstborn son, Prince George of Cambridge.

As you can see, the line of succession traditionally follows sons. As Prince George’s younger brother, Louis Arthur Charles would traditionally be fourth in line for the throne, but he’s actually fifth. Here’s where things take a historic turn.

Breaking the habit

Formal portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, Public Domain.

For most of the United Kingdom’s history, daughters were passed over for succession to give preference to sons.

Sure, Britain has had its share of queens; Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I both ascended to the throne in the 16th century. But they only received the position because Henry VIII’s sons, their brothers, died tragically young. His firstborn, Henry, died of an unrecorded disease at the tender age of 52 days. His second born son, Edward VI, became king at the age of 9, but died six years later of tuberculosis. Queen Victoria likewise reigned in no small part thanks to a string of Y-linked bad luck.

Jump forward a few centuries, Parliament finally changed the law to no longer favor gender with the Succession to the Crown Act 20135. This means Princess Charlotte of Cambridge, William and Middleton’s daughter, will retain her place as fourth in line to the throne. To give you an idea of how dated the laws of succession were, this legislation also removed the statute that automatically disqualified someone from the line of succession for marrying a Roman Catholic.

With no cutsies the official law of the land, Louis Arthur Charles will have to settle with fifth in line. If you’re curious, Prince Harry, Louis Arthur Charles’s uncle, is sixth in line, and Prince Andrew, Louis Arthur Charles’s great-uncle and Queen Elizabeth’s second son, is seventh.

So, the chances of Louis Arthur Charles ascending to the throne are pretty slim. With the days of bloody usurpation, rampant plague, and inbred haemophilia6 behind the royal family, he’ll have to make do with being a much-adored prince in one of the oldest and most respected monarchies in the world.

Tough break, kid.

The royal baby’s U.S. counterpart

Flickr, Greg Skidmore: Creative Commons 

To add some perspective, Louis Arthur Charles has about as much chance of becoming king as the Secretary of the Treasury has of becoming President of the United States. Like the newborn, the Secretary of the Treasury finds himself behind four others in the line of succession, in order: the Vice President, the Speaker of the House, the President pro tempore of the Senate, and the Secretary of State. The presidential succession is actually mapped all the way down to 17th place, with the Secretary of Homeland Security bringing up the rear. Of course, should that contingency ever come into play, we’ll probably have bigger problems on our hands.)

Still, the comparison isn’t quite apples to regal apples. The President serves as both the head of state and the head of government, while the British Monarch serves only as the head of state. The United Kingdom’s head of government is its Prime Minister, who wields political and executive powers similar to those of the President.

According to the Royal Family’s official website, the Monarch’s duties include constitutional and representational acts and serving “as a focus for national identity, unity, and pride.” The United States simply lacks an individual that performs this kind of role in public life. Well, except maybe Chris Pratt.

With the throne likely out of reach, only time will tell if Louis Arthur Charles becomes the United Kingdom’s Chris Pratt. Given the excitement surrounding announcement of his birth, he’s off to a good start.

'Upstreamism': Your zip code affects your health as much as genetics

Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."

Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
  • Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
  • Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
Keep reading Show less
  • A huge segment of America's population — the Baby Boom generation — is aging and will live longer than any American generation in history.
  • The story we read about in the news? Their drain on social services like Social Security and Medicare.
  • But increased longevity is a cause for celebration, says Ashton Applewhite, not doom and gloom.

Dubai to build the world’s largest concentrated solar power plant

Can you make solar power work when the sun goes down? You can, and Dubai is about to run a city that way.

Photo credit: MARWAN NAAMANI / AFP / Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • A new concentrated solar plant is under construction in Dubai.
  • When it opens next year, it will be the largest plant of its kind on Earth.
  • Concentrated solar power solves the problem of how to store electricity in ways that solar pannels cannot.
Keep reading Show less

Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. Think a dialysis machine for the mind. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.