Alfie Evans was born in May 2016, and it became apparent after several months that not all was well, and in mid-December of that year he was admitted to hospital; where many doctors and experts looked at his case and eventually concluded that he would likely not survive once taken off life support. He was in a vegetative deep coma, and continued to breath without life support for days, after it was removed following Evans’ parents lost a two-month legal battle following a February judgement to remove ventilatory support. He finally died early this morning.
I cannot fathom what these parents have gone through. I have a daughter who is nearly he same age as Alfie.
If he was as far gone as most of the doctors think, it might not have been ethical to sustain him as—if you will excuse the rudeness of the term—a husk. Perhaps he suffered pain; we don’t know. I think removing him from life support was probably merciful (though he breathed independently for days afterward).
What would I do?
I’ve thought about similar things for myself, before. What if I was terribly injured such that I became vegetative? I’d say let me go if I couldn’t live without a life support. If it was my wife, or my daughter? I’d have to wait on God, surely, but I would probably let them go—God knows they’re better in his hands. He will raise the dead if that’s His plan.
The interference of government.
I understand that they didn’t want to keep pouring thousands of pounds per day into what appeared a hopeless case medically. The money, equipment, staff and space could be used more effectively elsewhere. That’s a terribly painful if reasonable thing to have to do.
But if someone else would foot the bill—as the fundraiser would, as other nations have offered to—I do not think would have been wrong for the parents to keep trying to help Alfie.
What happened, though, is that the government stepped in and blocked charity. That’s what rankles me the most. You don’t have to use government funds and equipment and staff to support the child; okay. But it seems cruel to prevent others who would help—the Vatican, Italy, Germany—from being able to. They wouldn’t even let the child go home for fear that the parents might try and transfer him out-of-country. There is some cruel irony in that the state judged based on quality of life and yet refused to allow Alfie’s parents to make choices they want to make to improve Alfie’s quality of life.
Remember Charlie Gard?
The state’s refusal to release Alfie led to a situation where staff received threats, Alfie’s parents received threats, the judge is received abuse, the NHS is receiving abuse, and there was a police cordon outside Alder Hey which appeared to both hold in the child and hold out those deemed to be unwelcome.
This all could have been avoided, or at least defused much earlier. If the state allowed Alfies parents to choose another option—I’m thinking Italy. It would be somewhat less messy. The ethical complexity of how to treat Alfie would remain, but perhaps in a better environment—like drawing on the strength his parents might find at the geographic center of their Roman Catholicism—instead of surrounded by a police cordon and protesting supporters.
The state doesn’t own anyone, and we owe it nothing.
It is worrying that the state in the United Kingdom is asserting itself as the ultimate definer of ethics. Not everyone agreed what should be done, and there were plenty of people willing to try and do more, but the state said no.
Even more worrying is the creeping of law which seems to grip children tighter and tight in the claws of states throughout the world, pushing parents out of the sphere of choice when raising children. The state wants to tell you how to raise your children, what to teach them (and what not to), whether you can seek alternative health care, even going so far (in the province of Ontario in Canada) as giving itself the power to remove children from a home if parents don’t support their children according to the child’s chosen gender identity.
For Christians, these are alarming developments, as they seem to target many values that we believe are fundamental, and the laws are getting more restrictive. The time were we can choose freely—without serious consequences—is coming to a close. The church is declining in the public sphere, appealing to religion is no longer an acceptable argument to pass legislation.
The church needs to wake up.
Its time the church as a whole and individuals took a long, hard look at itself. What can we afford to lose without compromising our faith?
We will lose our buildings. We will lose our charity status. We will be censored. We will be fined and thrown in prison. We’ll have to meet in secret. Our children might be forced into daycare or public schools. We’ll be beaten and killed. The final Antichrist will arise.
But we shouldn’t wait until we have no choice. When we read the New Testament, the witness of the Scriptures shows us that the early church lived sacrificially, despite being under constant stress from the world around it. We should ask ourselves what that looks like and how to do it now, so that when the day comes that all these things have happened, we’re already prepared and active.