Alfie Evans And The Issue Of Parental Sovereignty
The British Court of Appeals caused international outcry Wednesday when they ruled that prolonging the life of British baby, Alfie Evans, who is currently dependent on external life support, would prolong his suffering. The decision was against the wishes of his parents.
The case doesn’t only pose questions regarding the decision-making authority for a child, but also a question of judgment. One of the parents’ main argument against the court ruling is the prospect of a misdiagnosis. Evidence for such a claim is considered the fact that Alfie continued to breathe after having been taken off a ventilator on Monday, defying all expectations.
The child is being treated at Alder Hey, a Liverpool hospital Alfie was admitted to at only 7 months old in 2016 after suffering severe seizures. While nobody was able to provide a proper diagnosis, doctors argue that his condition will only worsen.
The parents’ arguments mostly refer to knowing “what’s right” as well as the lack of diagnosis, and are challenged by the doctor’s claims of further treatment being “unkind and inhumane.” On Monday, the case even went before the European Court of Human Rights where the parents were denied their request to keep the doctors from taking Alfie off assistance. They were also denied a request to take Alfie to another hospital in Italy where doctors didn’t find a cure but would be able to keep him alive for a few more weeks.
While the medical staff is supported by the approval and legitimation by the legal system, Alfie’s parents are supported by a broad community not only in Britain but also in Poland and the Vatican State. The pope himself tweeted on Monday: “Moved by the prayers and immense solidarity shown little Alfie Evans, I renew my appeal that the suffering of his parents may be heard and that their desire to seek new forms of treatment may be granted.”
Justice Hayden stressed the validity of the Wednesday ruling by denouncing some of Evans’ supporters as “fanatical” and “deluded.” While he recognized the ethical dilemma caused by the case, Hayden’s concerns referred to various religious groups, and particularly, the Christian Legal Centre, that possibly supplied the parents with questionable legal advice that led Tom Evans to condemn Alfie’s doctors as murderers. This conspiracy was quickly picked up by other far-right conspiracy sites, such as Infowars and Breitbart, which could be seen as a possible confirmation of the judge’s concerns.
However, these developments do not diminish the significance of the question of who should be able to judge the termination of one’s life when its beholder is not able to.