So, Alfie Evans has died. His father, Tom Evans, said on his Facebook page that his little boy had ‘laid down his shield and taken up his wings’… and ‘we are absolutely heartbroken’.
So, the judges have got their way; Alder Hey hospital has got its way; the child died on the terms of the authorities, not on those of his parents.
Almost certainly, Alfie would have died whatever course had been taken this week. No one disputes the severity of his neurological condition. And indeed, in previous generations, children in Alfie’s conditions would have died long before this; his case is only possible because of medical advances. And obviously, withdrawing life support is not murder… using extraordinary means to sustain life goes beyond the duty of doctors.
But what we have seen is an ugly one-sided battle of Alfie’s parents and their supporters – the inarticulate, the misguided, the fundamentalist as well as the decent, ordinary and well meaning – pitted against the medical establishment represented by Alder Hey hospital and the judges. Offstage we had the chorus of the fourth estate, the columnists who manifested the obligatory sympathy with Alfie’s parents before making quite clear that their real animus was with the supporters, especially with the Christian legal aid organisation supporting the parents, which they identified as pro-life, and therefore sinister. Of course there were people with nutty views among Alfie’s army – they included people who regarded the withdrawal of life support as execution – but most of them, the anorak wearers, the women with dodgy hair colour, the children with bad taste balloons, simply identified with the parents of a sick child and wanted to do their bit to help. Bit like the supporting cast in the earlier case of poor Charlie Gard.
As Damian Thompson said in an excoriating post on this site, the case raises some serious questions even though Alfie has now died. I would just ask, again, just what would have been lost if Alfie had been flown to Rome to be treated at a Vatican hospital? The judges in the Court of Appeal suggested that he might have been at risk of infection. Right; he might have died. He has died anyway. But what no one has suggested is that the mere attempt to take him to Rome and treat him there would have resulted in extra unendurable suffering for the child. All that can be said is that it might not, probably wouldn’t, have worked.
But if he had been taken to Rome and if there had been one last effort by Italian paediatricians to save his life – and we’re talking about orthodox and reputable specialists – at least his parents would have the unspeakable relief of knowing that everything possible had been done to save him. He would have had one last shot at life. And that would have meant a great deal.
But even that mercy was denied them. And I honestly can’t understand why.