The sad and emotionally charged case of Alfie Evans, the toddler who died in the early hours on Saturday 28th April, has been in the press a lot over the last few months. Alfie had a progressive, incurable illness, and his doctors and parents were often in disagreement as to how he should be treated. The case has been to court a number of times where judges have had to decide what should be done. A lot has been said about this case from all sides, much of it unhelpful and unnecessarily unpleasant. It has however raised important questions about medical ethics and parental rights.
What should Christians make of it all?
Clearly it is the type of situation in which different people will have different opinions and we must be careful not to be dogmatic. However, Dr Peter Saunders, the CEO of the Christian Medical Fellowship has written a thoughtful and balanced article on his personal blog about the issues involved, which you may find helpful. The post is linked below and the Christian Institute have provided a summary here. (Note: Dr Saunders wrote the article a couple of days before Alfie Evans died.)
Whilst it is important to think about the issues raised by such a ‘deeply complex and difficult case’, we mustn’t forget that Alfie’s parents have lost a little boy they loved, and that it has also been a very hard time for the medical professionals who have been caring for Alfie, and the judges who have had to make very difficult decisions. We should try to remember them all in our prayers.
[A00072 – 30/04/2018]
Alfie Evans has a progressive incurable illness but his parents should not be stopped from doing what they believe is best for him – Dr Peter Saunders
Alfie Evans was admitted to Alder Hey Hospital, Liverpool in December 2016 suffering from seizures. He was found to have a (still undiagnosed) progressive neurodegenerative disease and has now been in a semi-vegetative state for more than a year. During that time, he has been on a ventilator in the critical care unit.
Alder Hey NHS Trust went to the High Court last year to seek a declaration that continued ventilator support was not in Alfie’s ‘best interests’. They claimed that scans showed ‘catastrophic degradation of his brain tissue’ and that further treatment was not only ‘futile’ but also ‘unkind and inhumane’.
But his parents disagreed and wanted permission to fly him to the Bambino Gesu Hospital in Rome in the hope of prolonging his life.
On 20 February, High Court Judge Mr Justice Hayden said doctors could stop providing life support for Alfie against his parents’ wishes, saying the toddler required ‘peace, quiet and privacy’. A lengthy legal battle ensued with the eventual result that Alfie was taken off the ventilator on Monday 23 April.
At the time of writing, over 60 hours later, he is still alive breathing spontaneously on oxygen.
The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had previously granted 23-month-old Alfie Italian citizenship, hoping it would allow an ‘immediate transfer to Italy’ but Hayden, who stated that ‘Alfie is a British citizen’ and ‘falls therefore under the jurisdiction of the High Court’, ruled that he could not go. This judgement was upheld on 25 April by three judges at the Court of Appeal.
The case has understandably generated international media interest, intense emotion and accusations on both sides with the medical staff, judiciary, Alfie’s parents and supporters and his legal team all coming in for criticism from various quarters.
Everyone has an opinion, which makes me all the more reluctant to offer mine. I do so now only because I have spent much of yesterday refusing requests to go on adversarial media debates but at the same time having to answer questions from church members, CMF members, leaders of other organisations all over Europe and concerned members of the public who are wanting to know what to think and are deeply concerned about the tone of public discussions.