The suffering of Alfie Evans and his parents has been heartbreaking to watch; his death even more so. But amid all the commentary which has followed, it is easy to forget that no one, including Tom Evans and Kate James, doubted that Alfie would eventually succumb to his condition.
Despite so many claims to the contrary, the chilling legal ordeal they were put through had nothing to do with their willingness to accept the reality of Alfie’s situation.
Alfie’s parents were not looking for an impossible cure, or grasping at straws to forestall the inevitable. They simply wanted the dignity of Alfie’s life respected, an acknowledgment that his existence was not futile, and that they, as his parents, had the right to fight for his life and decide what was best for him. These simple facts have been obscured.
There has been no shortage of people insisting that the matter is tragic and painful “for all concerned”. This sentiment seems like a noble expression on its face, but is actually rather suspect. The constant invocation of “all sides” and “everyone involved” implicitly buys into the premise that hospital administrators, lawyers and judges are somehow coequal stakeholders with Tom Evans and Kate James in the life of their son. They most emphatically are not. Yet it seems that the balance has now gone in completely the opposite direction to what the law intends.
No judge or doctor can have the same “concern” for a child as a parent. The involvement of the authorities has been permitted in law to provide for situations where the family fails, or the parents cannot agree on how best to care for their child.
No, parents are not always right if they say that life support should be continued against all medical consensus and objective facts. But that was nowhere near where Tom Evans and Kate James found themselves. Medical opinion was far from settled on Alfie’s best options – Bambino Gesù hospital in Rome had offered to continue treatment. But the courts decided on Alfie’s behalf, against the determination of his parents, which medical advice to accept.
When parents are united and alternatives are real, judges do not belong anywhere near the decision. Yet thanks to a decade and more of judicial overreach and creeping institutional control over families (from educational and local authorities more often than doctors), the law now sees parents as little more than caretakers of their children, who are merely on loan from the state.
Those who side with the court’s decision dismiss Alfie’s parents as clinging to irrational hopes at the expense of their son’s continued suffering. On the contrary, the Evans family have shown a much more clear-eyed understanding of what was at stake in their son’s case than any on the other side. The heroic witness of Alfie’s family to the simple fact that his life, short and sad though it was, had meaning, value and was worth preserving, was a stinging rebuke to our society which is increasingly comfortable taking a eugenic stance in law and culture – be it in the abortion of children with disabilities, or even based on sex, or the rejection of any ongoing situation of suffering as a life not worth living.
Many sought to chill defence of Alfie’s right to life, and his parents’ right to defend it, by insisting that the case was “complicated”, by which they usually meant “too complicated for you to understand”. Others insisted that the doctors, administrators and judges “know more about it” than we could looking in from outside. Both of these are false premises. The scandal of the Alfie Evans case has nothing to do with the details of his (still undiagnosed) medical condition, nor does it hinge on unknown unknowns out of the public domain. At its core, the matter is perfectly simple.
The courts and the hospital can reasonably say that treatment should be withdrawn. What is disgraceful is that Alfie’s parents were physically prevented from removing their child from a hospital which had gone to court for the power not to treat him. The revolting irony of Alfie being forced to remain in a hospital to ensure he could not receive medical treatment should stop us all in our tracks.
The courts and the hospital had every right to reach the determination that nothing more could be done for Alfie. But in asserting that his parents had no right, indeed must be stopped from accepting offers of help and treatment from elsewhere, they asserted almost a form of legal ownership over the child.
The family is the absolute foundation of society; respect for the dignity and inherent value of human life the standard of civilisation. The Alfie Evans case showed the perhaps terminal damage both of these have now sustained in Britain.