Parents of Alfie Evans in legal battle to transfer son to Vatican hospital
“No human life is worthless”, The Anscombe Bioethics Centre has stressed, as the family of 20-month-old Alfie Evans fight a legal battle to take their son to the Vatican-linked Bambino Gesu Paediatric Hospital in Rome.
Alfie’s parents Tom Evans, 21, and Kate James, 20, want him to be transferred to the hospital to undergo further treatment and operations for his condition, which may prolong his life.
However, fresh scans of the seriously ill child show his brain disease has progressed.
Mr Justice Anthony Hayden, hearing the hospital’s application to end life support at the High Court in Liverpool, ordered fresh MRI scans of the boy over the weekend.
A consultant at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told the court the latest scans showed further deterioration of the boy’s brain.
A previous set of scans, taken last August, showed Alfie’s brain had reduced by more than 70 per cent of normal size. However, six months on, the latest scans – taken on Friday 2nd February – showed the disease has now destroyed even more of his brain.
Alfie had already suffered ‘catastrophic degradation’ to his brain from a ‘relentless’ neurological condition, leaving him in a semi-vegetative state.
His medical team, at Alder Hey, believe to continue life support through ventilation is ‘unkind, unfair and inhumane’.
Earlier this week, Mr Justice Hayden asked the Alder Hey consultant if the Italian approach to the “preservation of life” was different to the “more secular” UK, asking the witness, “why are they wrong?”
The doctor replied: “In my opinion it does not serve the purpose. It is not in Alfie’s best interests. If there’s no hope for recovery, there’s no hope even for stabilisation.
“No hope for any development process. No hope for him to achieve anything you would regard as a meaningful life; to communicate, to learn, even to be able to sense. I don’t think we should prolong life.”
However, The Anscombe Bioethics Centre has strongly criticised the doctor’s comments, insisting that while doctors cannot be forced to continue treatment if they believe it offers little or no benefit for the patient, they should not prevent patients from seeking it elsewhere.
“In the case of children, it is the parents who have prime responsibility for their own child and this responsibility entails the right to protect their child’s interests as they see them,” said a spokesperson from The Anscombe Bioethics Centre.
“Parental rights, which exist for the sake of the child in the first instance, should not be taken from parents unless they have been shown to have acted unreasonably and put their child at significant risk,” the spokesperson continued. “Doctors do not always get things right in treatment or care, and where parents have lost faith in the doctors caring for their child they may seek treatment and care for their child elsewhere.”
The spokesperson explained that if the child can be moved without undue risk or burden, “the parents should normally be permitted to transfer the care of their child to other suitably qualified doctors, whether in this country or abroad”.
In the case of Alfie, The Anscombe Bioethics Centre pointed out that it is not clear that the treatment itself is causing the child to suffer and it is not clear whether he may not still be able to experience some simple pleasures, such as having his arm stroked.
“No doubt there are good reasons to direct expensive treatments or facilities to those who are most likely to benefit – and ideally, to recover,” said the spokesperson. “However, if the treatment is not itself excessively burdensome and the resources are available then there is a reasonable case for continuing life sustaining treatment and care.”
The spokesperson also explained that, as a general rule, withdrawing or withholding treatment may be justified if the motive is to spare a patient unduly burdensome procedures. However, they stressed that burdens caused by a procedure should not be confused with suffering caused by a particular condition or disability, even if the latter may be relevant to the patient’s ability to benefit.
“If the motive is to end what is seen as a ‘worthless’ life due to illness or disability, this can never be justified,” said the spokesperson. “No human life is worthless, and treatment may only be withdrawn for the right reasons, such as lack of resources or undue burden in relation to its benefits.”
Picture: Alfie’s parents Tom Evans and Kate James at the High Court in London in December. (Philip Toscano/PA).Tags: Alder Hey, Alder Hey Children's Hospital, Alfie Evans, Anscombe Bioethics Centre, Bambino Gesu Paediatric Hospital, Kate James, Liverpool, Mr Justice Anthony Hayden, rome, Tom Evans, Vatican