United Kingdom: Toddler’s death divides a nation
Who decides when a terminally ill child should be removed from life support? asked The Daily Telegraph in an editorial. Alfie Evans was only 23 months old when he died last week, five days after being taken off a respirator against the wishes of his parents. Doctors at Alder Hey children’s hospital in Liverpool said the boy, who had been diagnosed with a degenerative brain disease at 7 months old and hadn’t left the hospital since, was in a “semi-vegetative state” from which there was no hope of recovery. His parents, Tom Evans, 21, and Kate James, 20, wanted to take him to a hospital in Italy that was willing to continue treatment, and Pope Francis even interceded on their behalf. But after experts testified that Alfie might suffer needlessly in transit, the courts ruled that he not be moved. “Many people watching this tragedy unfold both here and overseas are appalled” that a judge would overrule a parent in a matter of a child’s life. Yet in Britain, parental rights are not absolute: Parents may not beat their children, for example, or deny them blood transfusions, and the state must advocate for each child’s well-being. The court had to decide what was best for Alfie, in a case that was not “black and white but full of gray—and emotional pain.”
The parents suffered even more thanks to the pro-life crowd that exploited them, said Gaby Hinsliff in The Guardian. The Christian Legal Center, an obscure evangelical group, supplied a lawyer who gave the parents incorrect advice and false hope, and even supported “an attempt by Alfie’s father to have the doctors prosecuted for murder.” Far-right U.S. conspiracy sites such as Breitbart and InfoWars got involved, whipping up online lynch mobs that harassed doctors and nurses with “a barrage of death threats.” Worse were the real-life protests at the hospital, where young patients arriving for treatment had to run a gauntlet of screaming demonstrators. The circus was reminiscent of the case of Charlie Gard, a brain-damaged infant whose parents wanted to take him to the U.S. for treatment and were similarly refused.
Americans wrongly attribute these decisions to the state-run National Health Service, said Sean O’Grady in Independent.co.uk, as if uncaring bureaucrats deemed some sick children’s care too expensive to be worthwhile. Quite the opposite: The NHS principle “is that no one should ever have to suffer in pain because they haven’t got the money to pay,” which is certainly “not the case in America.” Thank the NHS that Alfie’s parents are not now bankrupt as well as bereaved. But they will never be at peace, said Dominic Lawson in The Sunday Times. Even had the Italian treatment proved as pointless as the experts said, Evans and James would have at least known they had given their boy every chance. Doctors can be wrong. But Britain chooses to “treat the feelings and wishes of loving parents as irrelevant.”