A year after British infant Charlie Gard captured international attention over a battle between his parents and the hospital over continuing care to allow their child a chance at living, another British case is making headlines around the world.
Alfie Evans is a Liverpool two year old suffering from an undiagnosed neurodegenerative disorder. Doctors believe the child’s brain was destroyed by a rare mitochondrial disease. The Alder Hey Children’s Foundation Trust hospital and Evans’ parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, disagree about treatment. The hospital said continued ventilation is not in the interests of the child, while the parents want it continued until he can be transferred to another hospital that will attempt to treat Alfie.
On Feb. 20, the High Court stated that a MRI scan taken last August suggested “70 per cent of Alfie’s brain had been destroyed,” with a more recent scan indicating “almost total destruction.” The Royal Courts of Justice concurred, with Justice Anthony Hayden writing: “I am satisfied that continued ventilator support is no longer in Alfie’s best interest.”
The hospital argued in the absence of a cure, the priority should be a “peaceful, natural death.” The parents argued that not everything has been tried to save their son’s life.
More court wrangling ensued, and on April 11, Justice Hayden said the February medical scans said that “connective pathways within the white matter of the brain which facilitate rudimentary sensation – hearing, touch, taste and sight — had been obliterated.” He said there was no use in continuing any medical intervention.
Beginning last September, Alfie’s parents sought to transfer their son to an Italian hospital for a different course of treatment for his seizures after British doctors said there was no medical reason for continuing treatment. The hospital claimed “due to stimulations related to the transportation and flight, those seizures might induce further damage to the brain, the whole procedure of transportation at risk.” Legal wrangling began in December.
The High Court ruled in favour of Alder Hey Children’s hospital in February. The Court of Appeals upheld the decision on March 6. The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom refused to hear the case on March 20. Eight days later, the European Court of Human Rights found no violation of human rights in the hospital’s refusal to treat Alfie Evans or move him to Italy.
Tom Evans claims that his son is being improperly “detained.” Justice Hayden dismissed the complaint on April 16. Four days later, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal and the European Court of Human Rights likewise said an appeal was not in order.
On April 23, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it hoped Alfie would be allowed “immediate transfer to Italy” and announced that he had been granted Italian citizenship. Justice Hayden refused to give the parents permission to remove their son from the hospital and take him to Italy.
The same day, by court order, Alfie was removed from his ventilation machines. The Daily Mail and LifeSiteNews reported that the infant was breathing on his own. The next day Tom Evans told the media that because his son was breathing independently for 18 hours, ventilation should be reinstated.
Meanwhile, regular protests are taking place at Alder Hey hospital.
Also, Tom Evans has issued summonses for three doctors to be charges with the criminal offence of conspiracy, although it appears the Court of Appeals will not consider the application.
Paul Diamond, lawyer for Evans said “my general conversation with Mr. Evans is ‘save my boy’.”
The London Times reported Justice Hayden criticized the pro-life and Christian activists advising Tom Evans and Kate James. He called Pavel Stroilov of the Christian Legal Centre “fanatical and deluded.” He also condemned activists who criticized the hospital: “criticism against Alder Hey … for cruel bureaucracy and perceived injustice,” Hayden wrote, amounted to attacking ‘the very people who are trying to help.”
Times columnist Jenni Russell has also complained about the “hijacking of Alphie’s cause by the pro-life zealots of the Christian Right,” but that the parents should be able to decide the best course of action for their child. “Doctors are not omnipotent in their assessments,” she wrote. “Alfie cannot flourish, “because of the damage to his brain, “but perhaps doctors are wrong to declare that the time to intervene is over.” She noted that Evans and James are “not asking the (National Health Service) to do or spend more,” but rather “just want permission to take their son abroad.”
Russell said “if it would give his (Alphie’s) parents the reassurance of having everything they could, it seems wrong to deny them that fierce and elemental need to fight for the child they brought into the world.”
Anthony McCarthy, education and communications director for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, issued a statement supporting the parents’ right to advocate for medical interventions that do not harm their children. He said, “as an absolute minimum, we hope that Alfie will continue to receive hydration, and hope he will also receive any nutrition from which he is still able to benefit overall. “ McCarthy explained Alfie James “has a right to basic nursing care” and that, “no medical decision should ever have the aim of hastening death.”