If Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge’s new baby had a mysterious medical condition and doctors thought it was going to die, it is almost certain the royal parents would be allowed to exhaust every available method, anywhere in the world, to try and save their baby’s life. Unfortunately, the United Kingdom does not afford that same right to its common citizens and so today the life of two-year-old Alfie Evans hangs in the balance. He suffers from a degenerative brain condition, and his British doctors think he will soon pass away. Instead of letting the boy’s parents take him to Rome to seek further medical treatment, his British hospital is currently starving him to death.
Several months after he was born, Alfie was diagnosed with an unknown degenerative brain condition. After fighting for over a year, his condition worsened, and the hospital believed he could not get any better. Alfie’s parents wanted to take their son to Rome to continue life-support at the Vatican-owned Bambino Gesù Pediatric Hospital and seek additional forms of treatment, but the British government has barred this from happening. Right now, Alfie is stuck in Liverpool’s Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, which was given permission by a British court to withdraw his life support on April 23.
Because doctors at the hospital argue that Alfie will never get better, his parents are not allowed to take him to Italy, where another children’s hospital has already agreed to admit Alfie and do whatever it can to save him. The Italian government has gone so far as to give Alfie Italian citizenship in an attempt to force British courts to allow him to leave the United Kingdom. Despite these efforts, the courts refused. An exact quote from the court is that “the hospital must be free to do what has been determined to be in Alfie’s best interests.”
I fundamentally disagree that the hospital is in any position to decide whether a little boy who is fighting for his life should be allowed to continue his fight, or whether he must accept death as inevitable. Whether Alfie has any hope of recovery is not what the court and hospital have determined. Instead, they have decided that Alfie’s life is no longer one worth living. Therefore, it must be morally permissible for the hospital to remove his life support. But the hospital is not qualified to make this decision, evidenced by the fact that on April 23 it was proven wrong about Alfie’s medical condition and his ability to fight and recover.
Since being taken off of life support, the courageous child has managed to stay alive for 36 hours (to the time of publication). His doctors claimed he would not even last five minutes. Alfie clearly has a chance — albeit small — to pull through, but the doctors refuse to give him food or oxygen, and it took his father hours to convince them to give Alfie some water to drink. The hospital is trying to starve the boy to death instead of letting him fight.
I am no medical expert, but I can recall countless stories in which a person has miraculously survived an injury or illness despite doctors’ claims that any further medical assistance was futile. Even if the doctors are almost positive that Alfie’s unknown condition will kill him, they eliminate any chance he has of recovery by taking him off life support. Doctors are supposed to try their absolute hardest to save a patient, yet these ones are currently more of a threat to Alfie than his disease, considering they will not even give the poor boy some food. The only thing we know for certain will cause Alfie’s death is not feeding him. His doctors were already wrong about how long he could survive off of his life support. They could also be wrong about his likelihood of recovery. Therefore, the parents have the right to exhaust every option, at every hospital around the world, if there is any chance that they can save their baby boy’s life.
As we look in horror at this tragedy unfolding in the United Kingdom, we must ask ourselves an important question: Who gets to decide when life is worth living? Spending a few years in medical or law school does not make a doctor any more qualified than Alfie’s parents to answer such a normative question. What gives any human the right to decide if another person’s life is worth living, and if that person is worth fighting for? If you argue that Alfie’s continued treatment would be too painful, what do you say about all the other children who some doctors believe to have a slim chance of survival? Doctors in Italy believe Alfie could pull through, but he may never know if they were right because he was taken off life support. Should we just start euthanizing any child who some doctors believe will likely die from an illness, simply because the child is experiencing pain during additional treatment, even if the child’s parents want to seek further treatment at a different hospital which thinks the child could live? It is not the job of the state or any doctor to decide when someone’s life should end. Slippery slopes are real.
Alfie, being a mere child, is not in a position to tell us whether his life is worth living, and so he cannot consent to the termination of his own life. The opinion of a judge or a doctor does not replace the need for consent from the patient. If Alfie is allowed to fly to Italy and keep fighting for his life, he just might win. When he is 18, I am sure that he will tell you he is thankful he was allowed to live and not starve to death. Even if he was not, he would only be able to decide this once he was an adult, not one day sooner.
We are all going to die one day, and we all experience pain in our lives, but that does not mean our lives should be ended without our consent. Similarly, experiencing pain is a normal part of a child’s existence, and that does not mandate its death. When a baby is born, we stab them with dozens of needles, and even more as they grow up. We all know this causes the child immense pain and suffering, but also know that a child’s life is inherently valuable. That is why we let kids go through such an awful experience — to let them have the chance to live.
Ultimately, Alfie’s death will not come from his lack of food or his unknown illness, but from the pride of courts and hospitals in Britain which refuse to accept the possibility that Alfie proves them wrong. If the boy lives, it would make the judges and doctors who seemed so sure of Alfie’s fate seem incompetent, and some may even question their ability to carry out their duties in an effective manner. I worry that they no longer have Alfie’s best interests at heart and instead are only looking out for their own images.
In the parents’ latest attempt to appeal the court’s decision allowing the hospital to remove the baby from life support, the judge claimed that it would be the “final chapter in the case of this extraordinary little boy.” Yet, it is only the final chapter because the court sealed his fate by allowing the hospital to stop feeding him. Too many people in power have let Alfie down and abandoned him. I reject the notion that judges and doctors can act as philosopher kings who get to tell parents that their child must die; that is effectively the death penalty. The doctors were already wrong about how long Alfie could survive off of life support. He is a courageous child who has already pulled off one miracle, and considering his medical condition is so poorly understood, he deserves to keep on trying. Let Alfie Evans fight.
Hunter Campbell is a sophomore from East Arlington, Vt. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.