Alfie Evans and the State 90

Individual cases of huge emotional impact are not something on which I generally feel qualified to comment, and seldom are a good basis for general policy. But the heartbreaking case of little Alfie Evans is so striking I wished to look at it.

The most valuable and complete of many court judgements of the case seems to be the High Court judgement of 20 February, the starting point for the many appeals since. Reading this very carefully, I feel quite certain that the state is taking too much power over individuals in denying the Evans’ family the right to take their son abroad for treatment.

It is worth saying at the start that everybody involved, including the judge, seems genuinely motivated to do the best for little Alfie. It is also fairly plain that there seems no reason to believe that there is ever any chance of recovery. The discussions of whether the little boy’s reactions to stimuli including the touch of his mother, are actual reactions or coincidental convulsions, is terribly, terribly sad.

But I do worry about the reasoning employed. All the medical evidence indicates it is unlikely that Alfie can experience pain or discomfort:

para 21 Prof Haas: a. the majority of Alfie’s reaction to external stimuli (i.e. touching, pain stimulation like pinching, etc., reaction to noise, parents voice etc.) is very likely not a purposeful reaction but very likely caused by seizures (as proven by repeat EEC monitoring)

para 25 Dr M: I believe that is it unlikely that Alfie feels pain or has sensation of discomfort but I cannot be completely certain of this since Alfie has no way of communicating if he is in pain or discomfort.

para 28 The thalami, which I have been told fire the pathways within the white matter which generate sensory perception is, Dr R points out, effectively invisible in the scan. In simple terms the thalami, basal ganglia, the vast majority of the white matter of the brain and a significant degree of the cortex have been wiped out by this remorseless degenerative condition.
29. Painful though it is for F to read Dr R’s observations of Alfie’s current condition, it is necessary for me to set them out:
“Alfie does not show any response other than seizures to tactile, visual or auditory stimulation. He does not show any spontaneous movements. His motor responses are either of an epileptic nature or are spinal reflexes. He is deeply comatose and for all intents and purposes therefore unaware of his surroundings. Although fluctuating, his pupillary responses are abnormal with now only the most subtle, very brief dilatation to exposure to light but no normal constriction. Exposure to loud noises does not elicit any response. There is no response to central painful stimuli other than the occasional seizure. There is no response to painful peripheral stimuli other than seizures or at times spinal reflexes with extension and internal rotation of his arms and less frequently now, of flexion of his legs.”

The judge concludes that, as Alfie is in a semi-vegetative state with a degenerative condition and probably cannot experience any benefit from life such as the touch of his mother, support should be withdrawn and he should be allowed to die with proper palliative care.

But here is the place where I radically disagree: though it is unlikely that Alfie can feel pain or discomfort, the possibility that he MIGHT be able to experience pain and discomfort is the reason the offer from the Vatican to ship him by air ambulance to a hospital there cannot be permitted.

60. Whilst I have, for the reasons stated, rejected the evidence of Dr Hubner, I do not exclude the possibility that travel by Air Ambulance may remain a theoretical option. It requires to be considered however in the context of the matters above and one further important consideration. All agree that it is unsafe to discount the possibility that Alfie continues to experience pain, particularly surrounding his convulsions. The evidence points to this being unlikely but certainly, it can not be excluded.

The judge concludes that the risks of pain in travel by air ambulance, from the “burdensome” air travel and the difficulty of maintaining his care regimen on the air ambulance, rule out his going to Italy.

I have a fundamental problem with this. Throughout the medical reports, the possibility of Alfie experiencing pain and discomfort is not represented as a more significant possibility than that he can experience joy from the touch of his mother – both are viewed as highly unlikely. The argument that he cannot receive further treatment in the UK because he is vegetative, yet cannot travel for it in case he is not, appears to me pernicious.

That is without the lesser point that the capabilities of air ambulances are perhaps here underestimated.

There is also one area where I think Justice Hayden is deplorable. Professor Haas, who is German, concluded his evidence with this powerful paragraph:

“Because of our history in Germany, we’ve learned that there are some things you just don’t do with severely handicapped children. A society must be prepared to look after these severely handicapped children and not decide that life support has to be withdrawn against the will of the parents if there is uncertainty of the feelings of the child, as in this case”.

Justice Hayden takes extreme exception to Professor Haas’ statement, which he refutes at length, concluding:

53. I regard the above as a comprehensive answer to the tendentious views expressed by Professor Haas. No further comment is required by me.

This is completely out of order from Hayden. He is entitled to disagree with Professor Haas, but he is not entitled to describe the good Professor’s honest and reasonable view as “tendentious”.

This case is overreach by the state. It is not a case of the parents demanding perpetual NHS support, it is a case of the parents wishing, at no cost to the state, to leave the country with their severely ill son. As the state’s view is that their son will very shortly die anyway, and it is unlikely it will occasion Alfie any significant discomfort he can feel, I can see no reason that the state should override the wishes of the parents to pursue their hope, however remote, that some span of life of some quality might yet be available to their son.


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90 thoughts on “Alfie Evans and the State

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  • Mark777

    When Baby Alfie breathed his last, he did so in the arms of loved ones — his mother, his father, his Guardian Angel.

    Baby Alfie was surrounded by doctors, but not ones who would treat his illness.
    Baby Alife was surrounded by the best of Western medicine, but it was never applied.
    Baby Alfie was surrounded by nurses, but they refused to feed him.
    Baby Alfie was surrounded by armed guards, but they never protected him.
    Baby Alfie was surrounded by administrators, but none saw him as more than a dollar figure.
    Baby Alfie was surrounded by ethicists, who did not deem him a life worthy of life.
    Baby Aflie was prayed over by priests, but the Catholic bishops of the United Kingdom defended the hospital.

    Baby Alfie deserved the full protection of his government, and instead was treated as a pathogen to the state.

    Like a physical body reacting to injury, the Mystical Body of Christ recoils at the injury of one of her members.

    In a secular society, inconvenient lives are merely that. This isn’t the first time Europe has been savaged by armed guards, intent upon the death of the infirm and unwanted. Winston Churchill — a man who dedicated the latter years of his political career to the defeat of Hitler’s murderous ideologies — if he saw Britain today, would possibly believe that the Nazis had actually won the Second World War.

    One truly cannot condemn more the failure of the Catholic bishops of the United Kingdom to act. Yet in stark contrast, the laity of England did react as the Body of Christ ought.

    Millions of other Catholics in Italy, Poland, Ireland and the United States locked arms in prayer and fasting for the life of Baby Alfie. Despite the prognostications of his so-called medical caretakers, Alfie held on for days — and though tragic, his state-directed murder (and that’s what happened here) will be the rallying cry for every other child held hostage by socialized medicine and their death panels.

    The good news is that Baby Alfie showed us that Christendom is alive and well. The not-so-good news is that our bishops once again are demonstrating that they must be led in holiness by the laity — and by examples of holiness and right action, not political duplicity mocked up as prudence and so-called dialogue.

    Please pray for the Evans family and the repose of their son, Alfie.

    • glenn_nl

      Oh come on. This was not the result of a secular state, no more than the numerous executions that take place in Iran and America are the result of a theocratic state.

      Your utter BS about “socialised medicine and death panels” leads to me doubt your sincerity, since you know fully well the highly un-socialised US allows people to die through lack of medical attention by the tens of thousands every year.

      Perhaps we should give it all up to prayer? After all you say that “Millions of other Catholics in Italy, Poland, Ireland and the United States locked arms in prayer and fasting for the life of Baby Alfie” …. how did that work out?

      • mark777

        Open your eyes and Wake Up! You should have gone to SpecSavers!

        The name Alder Hey Hospital stirred memories. This hospital was at the center of a scandal at the end of the last century. Between 1988 and 1995, it was revealed that, without parental consent, the hospital had harvested 2,080 organs, removed from 800 children. Also without consent, Alder Hey had stored 1,500 foetuses that had been miscarried, stillborn or aborted. The subsequent government inquiry revealed how the doctor at the centre of the scandal had systematically and illegally ordered the removal of every organ from every child who had had a postmortem. It also told how in his office at the hospital, the same medical practitioner had kept the head of an 11-year-old child in a jar.

        In this past week the darkness over Albion became ever more impenetrable. Although one thing is clear, in what now seems a perpetual night across this land, all the devils are here…

        By the waters of Leman I sat down and wept…
        Sweet Thames, run softly till I end my song,
        Sweet Thames, run softly, for I speak not loud or long.
        But at my back in a cold blast I hear
        The rattle of the bones, and chuckle spread from ear to ear.

  • Tony

    Craig – thank you for this insightful analysis from the perspective of a non-medical practioner. As a medical practitioner I fully agree with your logical analysis!

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