Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Alfie Evans

I have forborne to comment on the tragic case of Alfie Evans, so far, for a few reasons.

One is the general principle that in such cases, the information widely available is rarely complete and almost always inaccurate to some extent, so it is foolhardy to rush to judgement.

Allied to that is my natural sympathy with Alfie's parents: I was intuitively on their side (and indeed have been praying for them and for Alfie over the last few weeks). The risk, of course, is that such sympathy over-rules one's reason.

Moreover, it was not clear to me what good it would have done to add to the furore, from a state of relative ignorance; and it did seem to me that much of the commentary on all sides added more heat than light to the debate.

Now that the dust has settled, I suggest that there are two issues at the heart of the case, from a Catholic point of view.

One is the rights of the parents as primarily responsible for their children's wellbeing.  That is a well-established principle in Catholic teaching; but it is clearly not an absolute. If a parent is deranged, or patently wishes to harm a child, it is both appropriate and proportionate for others - the state if necessary - to intervene to look after the child's best interests.  But I maintain that the bar for this must be set very high: it must be clear and unarguable, evident to the reasonable man, that such is the case - and that criterion was not met in the case of Alfie Evans. I believe the hospital and the state (in the judiciary) over-reached their authority.

The second is the principle of treating nutrition and hydration as 'medical care' which can then be withdrawn at the decision of medical experts. Again, we need to be careful about not making an absolute out of this: there are times, when somebody is actually dying, and when providing nutrition and hydration are causing suffering, when ceasing to provide them is the correct thing to do. However, as Joseph Shaw points out, the principles established in the Tony Bland case have taken that far too far; and that seems also to be what happened in the case of Alfie Evans, at least temporarily.

Please remember Alfie's parents in your prayers at this terrible time; Alfie himself, of course, is in no need of prayer: having been baptised and not yet reached the age of reason, he is clearly in heaven. May he pray for us all here below.

No comments: