Anger is toxic, and it has no place in ordinary political disputes. I’m very reluctant to add to it.
And yet, it is less with anger and more with a sense of bone-deep bewilderment that I–reluctantly–read a few articles about Alfie Evans.
Aflie is a baby with a severe neurological affliction that–according to doctors–has left him in a vegetative state with no conceivable chance of recovery. This is tragic, and no one is to blame for Alfie’s condition.
The UK courts have decided that no further care should be given to Alfie because there’s no hope of his recovery. This is tragic, but also defensible. It’s not possible to expend unlimited resources on every tragic case, and hard calls have to be made.
But where things stop making sense to me is where the UK government has refused to allow Alfie to be transported to Italy for additional care. Alfie has been granted Italian citizenship, the Italian military sent a plane to UK to fly him to a hospital in Italy, and all of this was done–one guesses–largely in response to the Pope’s public support for Alfie.
The UK government’s response is, essentially, that Alfie’s parents don’t know what they’re doing. The doctors know better. That may be true. Even the Italian hospital admits it can do no more than keep Alfie alive while doctors study his case. No one things there is a miracle cure.
But here’s the thing: why does the UK government, or any group of doctors, get to decide?
It gets more baffling still. Now Alfie’s parents, haven given up on the Italian option, just want to take him home. But even that they cannot do unless the doctors say so. In what universe is that a morally defensible position to take? Quoting an anonymous British father:1
When my son was born nearly 16 months ago, I found to my amazement that I could not take him home until a paediatrician had signed a small slip of paper, to be handed in at the exit, authorising his release. I joked to my wife that we were only parenting under licence from the State. It seems less of a joke now.2
The last straw–and the cause of the anger I can’t deny I feel about this–is the insufferable arrogance of the UK politicians and medical experts. For example:
Lord Justice McFarlane said parents, like those of Alfie Evans, could be vulnerable to receiving bad medical advice, adding that there was evidence that the parents made decisions based on incorrect guidance.3
Hospital officials at Alder Hey say they have received “unprecedented personal abuse” from the global backlash to Alfie’s case. The Liverpool hospital has faced several protests in recent weeks, organized by a group calling itself “Alfie’s Army.”
“Having to carry on our usual day-to-day work in a hospital that has required a significant police presence just to keep our patients, staff and visitors safe is completely unacceptable,” the hospital’s chairman, Sir David Henshaw, and chief executive Louise Shepherd said.4
Oh, is it “completely unacceptable” for people to protest what is essentially government-sanctioned kidnapping? I’m so sorry! I come from this crazy moral universe where parents–and not the government–are the guardians of their own children.
Or here’s another one:
Sometimes, the sad fact is that parents do not know what is best for their child,” Wilkinson said. “They are led by their grief and their sadness, their understandable desire to hold on to their child, to request treatment that will not and cannot help.5
The UK was, in many ways, the birthplace of our political heritage of individual liberty and rights. It’s mystifying–and tragic–to see the sorry state of decay it has fallen into today.
So tell me, folks, am I missing some really vital aspects to this story that make it something other than a micro-dystopia?
5 thoughts on “Thoughts on Alfie Evans”
Minor correction: Your first quote is not from Alfie’s father. It’s “from a lawyer in England, who gave me [Rod Dreher] permission to quote it as long as I don’t identity him”
But other than that, you are not missing anything. People will argue the courts acted in good faith (but the courts have acted in good faith during what were essentially show trials in the past), or that the legal reasoning is sound (sound legal reasoning has enabled atrocities in the past), or that the medical professionals know best so we should defer to their expertise (a common argument for totalitarian control – experts know better than you how to run your life). They’re all wrong. This is horrible, it is hell, and it’s only going to get worse.
Hospital Officials: Our medical advice is that Alfie cannot survive and he should be kept in the hospital with life support removed.
Also Hospital Officials: Alfie’s parents may have received bad medical advice.
Thanks for that correction, Ivan. I’ve updated the post.
And I very much agree with your conclusions that “it’s only going to get worse.” I don’t see any way for dystopian behavior like this to be avoided when we give the State such overwhelming power. Because “the State” is actually just people, and people don’t like appearing foolish, admitting their wrong, or backing down. What they do like is social status, prestige, and the feeling of power. This is not news or controversial. “Power tends to corrupt,” is just the summation of this age-old tendency. And it means that an all-powerful state has to be paired with increasingly powerful transparency and accountability mechanisms. When it is not–when the State’s power grows faster than our power to police it–this is the inevitable result.
There are other examples of UK totalitarianism—the the takeover of the lives of school children, knife control—but Alfie tops them all. How did the UK, with a relatively rich tradition of individual freedom, descend into this abyss where totalitarianism is seen as normal? Perhaps it is because once a state becomes socialized, the citizenry accepts all the logical extensions, which equal totalitarianism.
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