Commentary Magazine

A Miracle in Liverpool

Alfie Evans was supposed to die. On Monday evening, doctors at Alder Hey hospital in Liverpool, England, removed the 23-month-old toddler’s respirator following an effective death sentence handed down by Britain’s High Court of Justice. The court ruled that “continued ventilatory support is no longer in Alfie’s best interest” and prohibited his parents from flying their baby to Rome’s Bambino Gesù hospital for additional treatment at the Italian government’s expense. An international outcry led by Pope Francis failed to move British authorities.

In his decision, Justice Anthony Hayden of the High Court predicted that, owing to a little-understood and rapidly progressing brain condition, “Alfie can not sustain his life on his own. It is the ventilator that has been keeping him alive for many months, he is unable to sustain his own respiratory effort.” Some 30 police officers were posted outside the hospital to prevent Alfie’s supporters from attempting to rescue him overnight, and his parents were barred from supplying their own oxygen.

The most mother and father could offer their son was skin-to-skin contact—and love. He was, as I say, supposed to die. But he didn’t. Alfie continued to breathe independently for five, ten, fifteen hours. As I write, he has been going strong for more than 21 hours. Under moral pressure, the hospital finally relented and offered some oxygen and fluids on Tuesday morning. Yet the fluids were subsequently withdrawn, a source familiar with the situation tells me.

The Italian government granted Alfie citizenship on Monday, and the following day Italian diplomats sought to evacuate him by military air ambulance from his death chamber at Alder Hey. That final legal hope was dashed Tuesday evening, after the court dismissed the Italian appeal. It is unlikely that Alfie will survive for much longer. Even so, what has transpired in Alfie’s room—between Alfie and his parents, Tom and Kate—is nothing short of a miracle of love. It is also a rebuke to the callous judges and experts who would substitute their own judgement for that of parents in matters of life and death.

The medical complexities of the case, played up by the court and its defenders, serve to obscure this basic moral principle. No one is asking the U.K. National Health Service to expend extraordinary resources to keep Alfie alive. All Alfie’s parents ask is to be allowed to seek treatment elsewhere—again, at Italian expense—even if such treatment proves to be futile in the end. The same principle was at stake in last year’s Charlie Gard case. Once more, British courts have distorted the relevant legal standard—“the best interests of the child”—to usurp parents’ natural rights.

Laws that were enacted to give children a voice when parents were divided, or to protect children against neglectful or abusive parents, are now being used against parents who are united and determined to keep their children alive. As London-based canon lawyer Ed Condon wrote recently in the Catholic Herald, U.K. courts have broadened the relevant statutes “to include disagreements between unified parents and other authorities, be they educational, medical, or governmental.”

Nor is it possible to rule out the baleful influence of the European culture of death in Alfie’s case. It is true that the hospital is not proactively terminating Alfie’s life. Even so, Justice Hayden’s decision is full of references to dying with “dignity,” a favorite euphemism of the euthanasia movement. In reality, “death with dignity” in Alfie’s case involves withholding oxygen, hydration, and nutrition from a toddler and restraining his parents as they try to do what comes naturally to all parents.

Meanwhile, Alfie keeps fighting. His bed is festooned with several rosaries, I am told, including one sent directly from Rome by the pope.

 

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