UK Politics

The medical and legal establishment has got it wrong on Alfie Evans

BY Gerald Warner   /  26 April 2018

Of all the worldwide comment on the Alfie Evans case, the core truth was best encapsulated by a headline in the Wall Street Journal: “Alfie Evans and the State. A medical debate that’s gone global is not about the money. It’s about power.”

That says it all. It is about the power of the establishment elites, in this case both medical and judicial – two classic arms of the corporate entitlement that rules Britain – to order the lives of the rest of the population. And what more potent virility symbol for a ruling clique than wielding the power of life and death? Or, since nobody sees any prospect of a prolonged life for Alfie Evans, in this instance the power of death.

It is more than half a century since a British judge set the date for the execution of a murderer; most judges profess relief that they do not face the professional burden of having to do so. Yet Mr Justice Hayden appointed 23 April, ironically not only St George’s Day but also the date on which the nation was celebrating the birth of a royal baby, for the removal of Alfie Evans’s life support. As at every stage of this power struggle, the motive invoked was Alfie’s “best interests”.

In the event, Alfie’s best interests turned out to consist of removing his ventilation, depriving him of nutrition for more than 24 hours, giving him minimal hydration and refusing, with the support of the courts, to release him from the hospital where this regime was being imposed on him. Although judicial permission had been given, in principle though not in practice, for his parents to take him home, this was deferred due to fears they might abscond with him to Rome and secure him humane treatment.

Behind all the smokescreen of technicalities regarding brain decay, white matter, artificial ventilation and other medical issues, the great unanswered question is: why did the authorities adamantly refuse Alfie’s parents the right to take their child to the Bambino Gesù paediatric hospital in Italy?

Nobody expected a miracle cure at the Bambino Gesù (though its world-class clinicians might at least have succeeded in diagnosing Alfie’s illness, in the interests of medical research). What was expected was that Alfie could have ended his days among people who did not automatically regard his best interests as synonymous with death. His palliative care would have been of a high order and, as a moral principle, he would not have been starved or dehydrated to death – the point at which gently allowing a hopeless case to slip away crosses the red line to become euthanasia. Food and drink are not medication, otherwise the Ritz would rate as a private hospital.

And what about his parents? In that environment they could have spent invaluable time with their son, become reconciled to the inevitability of his death, in the consoling knowledge that every human endeavour had been exhausted in the effort to save him. That experience would have brought them – though the over-used term may jar – “closure”.

Why was that not allowed to happen? The air ambulance ordered by the Pope was state-of-the-art, the medical personnel highly qualified, even the Italian military were involved and the danger of harm to Alfie in transit minimal; and, if he had died naturally, it would have been no worse than suffocating at Alder Hey. At least his parents would have done their best for him.

But family and parental rights are being marginalized in Britain. It was spelled out from the judicial bench that parental rights took second place to the child’s best interests, a subjective term that turned out to be a euphemism for killing him. If parents are, for example, Jehovah’s Witnesses, their refusal of necessary blood transfusions for their children are rightly overruled by the courts. Here, however, we had two loving parents, in full agreement, trying to take their child abroad with every medical facility both in transit and at their destination, but prevented by the state.

That is the grim reality: Alfie Evans is a prisoner of the State. Even at the court hearings he was represented not by his parents but by a state “guardian”; technically, Alfie was on the opposing side to his parents in the dispute over his life. For the establishment, detaining Alfie to die in this country became a virility symbol. And for the establishment the presumption is always in favour of death. The Medical Ethics Alliance denounced the way in which “the parents were stripped of their right to be decision-makers for their beloved child” and concluded: “Medical tyranny must stop.”

That tyranny contrasts shamefully with the goodwill of foreign leaders and commentators. The Pope intervened several times (Alfie is a baptized Catholic). The head of the Italian healthcare system, Walter Ricciardi, criticized the NHS mindset: “The way my English colleagues often deal with situations like this is shocking and inhumane.” The President of Poland, Andrzej Duda, pleaded for Alfie’s life, adding an insightful comment: “Perhaps all that’s needed is some good will on the part of decision makers.”

Quite. What was obvious at every court hearing was the large amount of discretionary power available to the judges. They could have come down on either side of the argument without manipulation of the law. Predictably, in a society where the culture of death has grown increasingly stronger, with public sensitivity anaesthetized by nearly nine million abortions, Caesar gave the thumbs-down.

For too long, fundamental moral issues that should have been subject to detailed and prolonged public debate have been decided by bluestocking Oxbridge baronesses sitting on consensual quangos. Yet the British condemn Americans for conducting culture wars which signal moral sensitivities are not dead across the Atlantic.

The Alfie Evans case chillingly demonstrates how far parental rights have been eroded and the remorseless advance of the intruder state. The establishment was bruised by its defeat in the Brexit referendum and will now go to any lengths to assert its power. That, as the Wall Street Journal commentator correctly recognized, is what this lamentable case is all about.