Does the court have the right to decide to end a toddler's life?
Following a legal battle, a court ruled that 23-month-old Alfie Evans should be taken off life support. Read on to learn more.
It’s a situation no parent ever wants to find themselves in — waiting to see if their beloved child will live or die. But Tom Evans and Kate James found themselves in this exact, heart-wrenching dilemma.
Their 23-month old son, Alfie, had been diagnosed with a degenerative brain condition.
They brought him to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool back in December 2016. While there, scans showed the toddler’s brain tissue was being “catastrophically degraded.”
Because of his illness, he ended up in a semi-vegetative state. Hospital staff agreed that, sadly, this condition meant certain death. So they recommended terminating life support. But, as any parent would do, little Alfie’s mum and dad were not ready to give up on their darling son so easily.
In late 2017, a four-month legal battle ensued, where the hospital recommended withdrawing life support. They insisted that it was the most humane thing to do.
Alfie’s parents fought to take him to Italy for further treatment. But the doctors discouraged it, stressing how pursuing this option would simply be cruel.
The court eventually ruled in the hospital’s favour. Little Alfie was taken off life support and died a week later.
Despite the overwhelming odds, Alfie’s parents persisted. Taking to a Facebook page they created called Alfie’s army, they shared updates, including how Alfie had been breathing on his own after life support was terminated. His devoted dad even attempted to revive the toddler by performing CPR, but to no avail.
They held on to hope, even going so far as meeting with Pope Francis. BBC reports dad Tom pleaded with the pontiff to help save their son.
Upon learning about the toddler’s death, the Pope took to Twitter to express his sympathies.
“I am deeply moved by the death of little Alfie,” he wrote in a tweet. “Today I pray especially for his parents, as God the Father receives him in his tender embrace.”
“My gladiator lay down his shield and gained his wings… absolutely heartbroken,” wrote Alfie’s dad Tom on Facebook.
For their part, the hospital that treated Alfie express their “heartfelt sympathy.” There was an outpouring of love and support for the little one, whose fight for the right to life divided the nation. It also inspired many to protest against the hospital.
Despite the heartbreak, Alfie’s dad took time to express his gratitude to those who have supported them. He also urged protesters to “go home” so that they can work with the hospital to give little Alfie the “dignity and comfort he needs.”
Sadly, little Alfie isn’t the first child to be taken off life support after a court ruling.
In July 2017, a British baby named Charlie Gard was taken off life support. He died a week before his first birthday.
He had an extremely rare genetic condition called mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome. Because of this, Charlie experienced muscle weakness and loss of motor skills.
He eventually experienced paralysis, seizures, ultimately relying on a ventilator to continue breathing.
His parents were not giving up on him. They planned to seek out medical treatment in the United States. But sadly, the court ruled to take him off life support. Charlie’s parents were naturally devastated by the ruling.
Tragic instances like these show how heartbreaking it is when the parents are deprived of the right to choose.
Many agree with respecting the parent’s wishes. After Charlie’s case gained worldwide media attention, thousands pleaded to give the little one a chance to live. Pope Francis also urged the United Kingdom court to grant the parent’s wishes.
Sadly, it is lawful for a court to decide whether a child in a terminal condition could continue to be treated.
While others would condemn the court for “playing God,” others would agree that prolonging a child’s suffering would be, as the hospital said, “inhumane.”
Gideon Ren, a seminary graduate and Strengths Finder coach believes that “prematurely signing a death sentence” for a baby is a way to “undermine the sanctity of life, and the perseverance of the human will.”
Medical consultant Abdul Majid chooses a similar stance on the matter, saying: “I think they should be given a right to try every option that they had to give their child a chance at life.”
He continues, “Whether or not the outcome is successful, it would mean closure for them. They wouldn’t plague themselves with the what ifs, for the rest of their lives.”
What do you think about this deeply divisive ethical issue, mums and dads?