The British legal system has sentenced 23-month-old Alfie Evans to death; they say his death is for his own good. While the parents dispute that Evans has been properly diagnosed and the Italian government offers travel and medical care for the toddler, the British judicial system has determined that Alfie’s life is no longer worth living, and has withdrawn life support. He has survived for more than 24 hours nonetheless.
Suffice it to say that if Alfie’s parents took him home and refused to feed him, they would be prosecuted for child abuse. If a British hospital does it at the behest of British judges, they’re standing on the side of good and right.
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Why? Well, because Alfie is supposed to “die with dignity.” According to hospital staff, their goal was to kill Alfie with “dignity.” Judge Hayden, the presiding judge in this case, talked similarly of “dignity.” An NHS doctor named Rachel Clarke wrote an op-ed for The Guardian (UK) suggesting, “Withdrawal of care is neither killing nor murder, but enables a patient to die with comfort and dignity.”
First off, that’s not what’s happening here.
Let’s distinguish between two terms: comfort and dignity. The courts and NHS seem to use these two terms interchangeably, but they are not interchangeable. Death with comfort is something that can be objectively determined – we can tell your pain level, the horrors you’re suffering, the alleviation of that pain from watching. We know that a woman dying of a bowel obstruction who chokes on her own bile is dying an objectively less comfortable death than that same woman being sent to hospice a week earlier and placed on morphine.
Dignity, however, is a state of mind and a state of being both to yourself and relatively to others. If you are dignified with respect to yourself, you are fulfilling your wishes – and those wishes may range from dying with palliative care to struggling until you take your last breath. If you are dignified with respect to others, you take their wishes into account. Great men and women die in horrible agony on a regular basis, and they are not less dignified for having done so. Comfort and dignity are not identical.
“Dying with comfort” might be a term applicable to Alfie Evans. “Dying with dignity” isn’t. Alfie doesn’t have a choice here. He’s 23 months old. So the question becomes – even assuming that he will die in the near future – whether his parents or the state gets to choose what “dignity” looks like. The answer should be that his parents get to choose. They get to decide the memories they have of Alfie. They are the people who will be visiting Alfie’s grave. And if they believe that the best – and most dignified – thing for Alfie is to fight for every last second of his life, that’s their perfectly understandable choice.
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Death with dignity is a term utilized most often by advocates of euthanasia, who suggest that earlier death with comfort is preferable to later death with pain. That is a value decision, subjective in the extreme. But the logic of euthanasia has now infected the state apparatus, and so the state uses its own determination of “dignity” to apply the methodologies of death to children. That is truly evil, and dignity has nothing to do with it.
A British doctor treating Alfie Evans told reporters off the record his parents won’t be allowed to take their child out of the hospital, even to die at home, unless there is a “sea change” in their attitude.
Alfie’s parents are battling the hospital and the government of the United Kingdom to continue caring for their little boy, who is suffering from an undiagnosed condition that British doctors say has rendered him terminally ill. Although he was taken off life support Monday night, Alfie has continued to live with the help of an oxygen tank. The courts have ruled his parents cannot take him out of the country, and have allowed the hospital to keep Alfie in their “care” by force.
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A report from The Telegraph indicates the hospital staff is not interested in what’s best for Alfie, so much as proving a point to the parents, who have an “attitude” they don’t like. Here’s the revealing bit, buried in the Telegraph report:
Instead, the judge said the best Alfie’s parents could hope for was to “explore” the options of removing him from intensive care either to a ward, a hospice or his home.
But a doctor treating Alfie, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said that for Alfie to be allowed home would require a “sea change” in attitude from the child’s family, and they feared that in the “worst case” they would try to take the boy abroad.
In sum: The doctors have determined Alfie must die, and he must die in the hospital, unless the parents change their attitude.
The parents have pulled out all the stops in order to fight to continue protecting and caring for their child. Alfie was granted Italian citizenship Monday after Pope Francis intervened on his behalf, so that he could be transferred to a hospital in Rome.
Alfie’s father, Tom Evans, had flown to Rome to personally appeal to Pope Francis on his son’s behalf. “Your holiness, save our son,” he told the Pope. But the intervention wasn’t enough — a British court ruled he cannot be moved out of the country. Evans and his wife, Kate, are expected to meet with doctors Thursday to discuss whether they might be permitted to bring him home.