I’ve held back from commenting on the Alfie Evans case so far because everybody else and his brother seem to be weighing in, and to be truthful, these cases are extraordinarily complex and I’m not a medical professional.
However, I do know the Catholic principles for dealing with end of life issues. If an illness is definitely terminal, then the family does not have to resort to heroic measures to maintain life. They should, however, maintain pain relief, nutrition and hydration. Furthermore, if the family wish to seek further medical help they may do so.
If the news reports are to be believed, this case is violating . The family could agree to turn off the life support technology, but they may choose not to. Furthermore, whatever the situation, pain relief, nutrition and hydration must be maintained until such time as the patient can no longer process them. An example of this is when the terminally ill person’s digestive system simply doesn’t accept the nutrition any longer or feeding tubes can no longer be maintained. The bottom line is that no one may take active steps to intentionally end the patient’s life.
But this seems to be exactly what the medical staff are doing, and it fits with the notorious Liverpool Care Pathway.
The fact that the Archbishop of Liverpool has taken the side of the hospital in this case is shocking. Does he not know the Catholic principles for end of life matters? Does he not stand up for them? Why on earth hasn’t Archbishop McMahon spoken clearly about the Catholic principles on end of life issues? This is not only for the sake of Alfie and his family, but it is a powerful teaching opportunity while the world’s media is watching.
Instead we get a bland, sentimental statement that the hospital has done all it possibly can. No. The medical staff are clearly contravening Catholic end of life issues. They are withholding nutrition and hydration from the child and they are therefore taking steps to intentionally end life.
Instead of siding with the British establishment in this debacle, what if this Archbishop had donned his red buttoned cassock, his scarlet cincture, biretta and feriola (that’s the cape that Fulton Sheen used to wear on TV) and marched up to the hospital feriola flying in the breeze backed by a crowd of Catholics and a medical team, walked into the hospital and scooped up that baby in his arms and walked out to the waiting helicopter?
I guarantee the hearts of Catholics the world over would leap up and pews would be filled up the following Sunday.
But no. The UK Catholic bishops are notorious for never rocking the establishment boat. They are so desperate to belong and fit in with the Crown and the Church of England that they will rarely if ever stand up to the British establishment.
It has pretty much always been so.
At the Protestant Revolution it was only St John Fisher who defied the crown. At least then, the bishops had an excuse. They had never been in such a situation before and they imagined that Henry VIII would soon change his mind and things might be resolved. Only John Fisher saw the true implications and saw the rocks onto which the boat was headed.
The rocks on which the boat is headed in this case are far more looming and ominous than just the situation with this poor little boy. What we are really witnessing here is a showdown between the authority of the UK establishment–which includes the National Health System, the judiciary and the full weight of government authority–and individual citizens. The real issue here is not Alfie Evans, but the freedom of parents to choose the right path of life for their child. The shocking irony is that if Alfie’s mother had chosen an abortion two years ago this same government would have defended to the death her right to choose to kill her child, but now they will not defend her right to choose the chance of life for her child.
The rocks ahead are also ominous because we are witnessing openly what has been happening for a long time: forced euthanasia. This one has been creeping up for a long time complete with sinister euphemisms like the “Liverpool Care Pathway” The reality is summarized in an excellent article by Charles Camosy at First Things. He comments on the judicial ruling:
But even if we suppose the judge is correct, he and others are making the case that certain profoundly disabled children are unworthy of life. And when one combines Alfie’s case with that of Charlie Gard, the UK has now established the clear and frightening precedent that parents who have a different understanding of what kinds of lives are worth living may have their children taken from them and left to die—in the children’s own best interests.