Can a pair of brave but terribly sick little boys, neither of whom lived to see the age of two, move a whole nation to change unjust laws? Of course, they can. Indeed, that’s what Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans are poised to achieve, when Parliament considers a law aimed at strengthening parental rights in disputes with physicians over the treatment of sick children.
Charlie’s Law, nicknamed after Charlie Gard, would permit parents to seek treatments at other hospitals “unless it would cause the child ‘significant harm,’” The Daily Mail reported last week. “The law would also compel hospitals to offer mediation in disputes before resorting to the courts.”
If enacted – and please God, let it be enacted – the proposed legislation would make it less likely for parents to find themselves having to single-handedly fight off Britain’s medical and legal establishments merely to try alternative remedies. That, you will remember, is what Charlie’s and Alfie’s parents had to do, and in both cases they failed to overcome the bureaucracy, notwithstanding the interventions of Pope Francis, President Trump and millions of supporters around the world.
In both cases, other doctors and institutions were willing to treat the children, not at British taxpayer expense. Yet the respective hospitals – Great Ormond Street in Charlie’s case, Alder Hey in Alfie’s – refused to release the children, claiming to know Charlie’s and Alfie’s interests better than their working-class parents did.
At Alder Hey in Liverpool, this arrogance and highhandedness saw an institution dedicated to the care of children wage war on parental love. Having resolved that Alfie’s rare, barely understood degenerative brain disease rendered treatment futile, Alder Hey went all the way to the High Court to prevent the boy’s parents from seeking additional treatment at a Vatican hospital (at Italian expense). The High Court ultimately agreed, with Justice Anthony Hayden writing that the best Alfie could expect was a death with “dignity”, which happens to be the culture of death’s pet watchword.
Thus did Alfie become a hostage of his hospital. The authorities posted a phalanx of police officers at the hospital to prevent any rescue attempt.
Alfie’s will to live catalysed what I called a global pro-life uprising. Polish President Andrzej Duda, European Parliament chief Antonio Tajani and even Piers Morgan pleaded with Alder Hey and the British state to let Alfie go to Rome. Italian officials granted Alfie citizenship and made a valiant diplomatic effort to save their tiny, captive compatriot. Pope Francis, meanwhile, prepared a military air ambulance to exfiltrate Alfie.
But this global outcry seemed only to harden Alder Hey’s resolve. At one point, Alfie’s father, Tom Evans, released a hostage note-cum-statement in which he offered to “form a relationship, build a bridge and walk across it” with the hospital, which merely underscored the authoritarian nature of the whole affair. Eventually, after five days – far longer than the worldly wise had predicted – the “little gladiator laid down his shield and gained his wings”, as Evans put it.
Charlie’s case, though perhaps slightly less dramatic, was every bit as a gut-wrenching, not least because there were American doctors offering pioneering treatment they believed could have made the boy whole. Charlie’s parents privately raised £1.3 million to transfer him, only to have their hopes dashed by medical bureaucrats convinced they knew better.
But all the global pro-life energies poured into saving Charlie and Alfie weren’t wasted. Charlie’s Law, per the Mail, “is being championed by a string of senior doctors – including some who were once opposed to Charlie’s parents. The proposals could become law later this year, as part of the Access to Palliative Care Bill, if the government grants parliamentary time.”
Here’s hoping the Holy Father – who at the high point of the Alfie Evans affair showed a heroism worthy of his most illustrious predecessors – will champion these reforms as he championed the boys while they were yet alive. Passage of the law would mark an important victory for parental rights, and for the civilisation of love, against the wretched culture of death.
Charlie and Alfie and their parents must have the final word.
Sohrab Ahmari is the op-ed editor of the New York Post and a contributing editor of the Catholic Herald. He is at work on a book exploring 12 questions our culture doesn’t ask