Of all the worldwide comment on the Alfie Evans case, the core truth was best encapsulated by a headline in the Wall Street Journal: “Alfie Evans and the State. A medical debate that’s gone global is not about the money. It’s about power.”
Most readers are probably at least somewhat familiar with the case of Alfie Evans, a 23-month-old boy from Liverpool with a still-undiagnosed neurodegenerative disorder (a fact which is itself concerning), who died in Alder Hey Hospital in Britain after a British court ordered life support removed (technically, they ruled that doctors could order the removal of life support, which they did).
This, despite his parents’ valiant fight to take him to Italy for further treatment, which resulted in Alfie being granted Italian citizenship, the Pope chartering a state-of-the-art air ambulance to fly him there, and the Italian government and even military standing by to serve in a support role.
Despite international outcry and support for Alfie and his parents, the hospital not only took him off the respirator – after which he continue to surprise everyone by living four more days – but for even denied him sustenance and hydration, and went so far as to station a police cordon outside the hospital so that he could not be removed.
The argument was that airlifting him to Italy – where he would, as is generally accepted, have had no more hope of recovery than in Britain – would not be “in the child’s best interest.” Apparently starving and dehydrating him was.
I was a relative latecomer to this saga, but after learning about it, the incident has touched me deeply. I found the linked response to be particularly on-target:
“[At] every stage of this power struggle, the motive invoked was Alfie’s ‘best interests.’
“In the event, Alfie’s best interests turned out to consist of removing his ventilation, depriving him of nutrition for more than 24 hours, giving him minimal hydration and refusing, with the support of the courts, to release him from the hospital where this regime was being imposed on him. Although judicial permission had been given, in principle though not in practice, for his parents to take him home, this was deferred due to fears they might abscond with him to Rome and secure him humane treatment…
“Nobody expected a miracle cure at the Bambino Gesù (though its world-class clinicians might at least have succeeded in diagnosing Alfie’s illness, in the interests of medical research). What was expected was that Alfie could have ended his days among people who did not automatically regard his best interests as synonymous with death. His palliative care would have been of a high order and, as a moral principle, he would not have been starved or dehydrated to death – the point at which gently allowing a hopeless case to slip away crosses the red line to become euthanasia…
“And what about his parents? In that environment they could have spent invaluable time with their son, become reconciled to the inevitability of his death, in the consoling knowledge that every human endeavour had been exhausted in the effort to save him. That experience would have brought them – though the over-used term may jar – ‘closure.’
“Why was that not allowed to happen? The air ambulance ordered by the Pope was state-of-the-art, the medical personnel highly qualified, even the Italian military were involved and the danger of harm to Alfie in transit minimal; and, if he had died naturally, it would have been no worse than suffocating at Alder Hey. At least his parents would have done their best for him.
“But family and parental rights are being marginalized in Britain. It was spelled out from the judicial bench that parental rights took second place to the child’s best interests, a subjective term that turned out to be a euphemism for killing him… Here, however, we had two loving parents, in full agreement, trying to take their child abroad with every medical facility both in transit and at their destination, but prevented by the state.
“That is the grim reality: Alfie Evans [was] a prisoner of the State.”