Though Alfie Evans, the beautiful little boy who captured our hearts, has died, we must never forget him. And we must never forget that we are all children of God and it is only God who can call us home. This CLSP blog was written to help you talk with your children or students about the circumstances surrounding the debate about Alfie’s care and about euthanasia. These talking points are never outdated. Our hearts go out to Alfie’s family at this very difficult time. May his soul rest in peace.
Stories about people in danger of euthanasia come up in the news all the time. Last year, the world watched as baby Charlie Gard
was left to die at a UK hospital despite repeated appeals by his parents for experimental treatment overseas.
Today another child is facing euthanasia in the UK. Alfie James Evans is a seriously ill toddler who has been hospitalized at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool since December 2016 for chronic seizures and an undiagnosed condition. When the hospital decided that it was in Alfie’s best interest to stop his life support, Alfie’s parents, Thomas Evans and Kate James, appealed the decision, even asking Pope Francis for help.
On April 23, 2018, the hospital removed Alfie’s ventilator against the wishes of his parents, assuming that Alfie would not survive without the machine to assist him in respiration. Since then, Alfie continues to breathe without the ventilator. After six hours, Alfie was given oxygen and a little bit of water; after 28 hours, he was finally given food.
Hospitals around the world have offered to take care of Alfie rather than let him be euthanized in England. The Italian government granted Alfie Italian citizenship in an effort to remove him from the hospital, but Alder Hey Children’s Hospital is not allowing Alfie to leave the country, let alone leave the hospital to be at home with his parents. In a statement on April 24, Alder Hey Children’s Hospital said that it would proceed with Alfie’s “end of life care plan.” At the time of the statement, Alfie was breathing on his own and was not dying.
Talking to your teens
Alfie’s story is heart-wrenching. As his story continues to unfold, you will likely find yourself with some great opportunities to discuss this difficult topic with your children or students. We want to help. Below are some questions about Alfie’s situation that you can use in your discussion.
Why can’t Alfie’s parents just take him out of the hospital?
Alfie’s parents have lost the legal right to be the sole decision makers when it comes to making medical decisions on his behalf. According to England’s Children Act of 1989, parents have the right to make medical decisions for their child, but the court can decide if the parents’ wishes act against the best interests of the child. However, we must realize that “best interests” are subjective and that, because we are all children of God, it is never in anyone’s best interest to be killed.
In Alfie’s case, Alder Hey Children’s Hospital has decided that it is better for Alfie to die rather than to pursue treatment for his condition. Understanding that Alfie might not live much longer, Alfie’s parents want to give him the best care possible—care that honors Alfie’s dignity and does not cause or hasten his death. Because the court has decided in favor of the hospital, if Alfie’s parent’s remove him from the hospital they would be breaking the law and would risk arrest.
The media states that Alfie’s parents are trying to keep Alfie alive artificially. Is that true?
No. Alfie’s parents want him to receive proper care, including food, water, oxygen, and his usual medications. These few things are ordinary treatment for any patient and should not be withheld in order to hasten a person’s death.
It is not possible for medical science to keep a person alive after that person has died. Doctors claim that they cannot detect much activity in Alfie’s brain and have even referred to him as “brain dead.” However, Alfie is still very much alive. He can be seen blinking, sucking his pacifier, and turning toward his father’s voice. Not only that, but his circulatory, digestive, and respiratory systems are all functioning on their own.
Is Alfie’s oxygen breathing for him?
No. Every human being needs oxygen. Some human beings don’t have the strength to take good breaths to keep them healthy and functioning normally. Doctors give these patients additional oxygen to help make up for this deficiency. Sometimes people are put on a machine called a ventilator to help push air into their lungs. Dr. Paul Byrne eloquently explains a ventilator’s function in this article.
Some people may say that Alfie has a “poor quality of life.” As Catholics, how do we respond to this assertion?
We know that Alfie’s value doesn’t come from what he can or cannot do or from his contribution to society. Alfie’s condition makes it difficult for him to do things on his own, but this doesn’t make his life any less valuable. Alfie’s value comes from being made in the image and likeness of God.
The media and proponents of euthanasia would have us believe that because of his brain condition, Alfie’s life is not worth living. Saying that Alfie’s life is poor in quality is a judgment against his inherent dignity as a child of God. In his few months of life, Alfie has touched the hearts of thousands of people around the world. His story has inspired many people to think differently about end-of-life care and about the euthanasia mentality.
The truth is, every human being’s life is worth living. Long before Alfie ever came into existence, God had a plan for him, just as He has a plan for every human being. How can we say that we know better than God and kill Alfie before his time on earth is over?
Some people may also say that letting Alfie die is the most humane thing to do. Is that true?
No. No one is preventing Alfie from dying. When God is ready for him, He will call him home. What is not acceptable is hastening the process by playing God and withholding nutrition, hydration, and oxygen from Alfie. Phrases like “letting go,” “allowing to die,” and “death with dignity” trick us into believing that removing Alfie’s life support is something positive or something we should accept as humane. In reality, medical science cannot keep a person alive longer than God intends. As we learned with Charlie Gard’s story, a ventilator only assists a person with respiration. It is possible to die while on a ventilator. When the person dies, the ventilator will no longer work. Withholding nutrition and hydration from a person in order to hasten his death is murder.
The media refers to Alfie as “terminally ill,” “brain-dead,” and in a “semi-vegetative state.” Such terms paint a vivid picture of Alfie as a person whose life is not worth living—a person whose life is disposable. Language like “vegetative state” or “brain-dead” serves to dehumanize Alfie in the eyes of the public and allows people to ignore his inherent dignity and value.
What care should Alfie receive?
At a very minimum, Alfie is entitled to nutrition, hydration, oxygen, and his usual medications—all of the elements necessary to sustain and promote his life, not cause his demise. These are every human being’s basic needs. Even though food, water, and oxygen might have to be administered through tubes and machines, these things are still considered ordinary treatment rather than extraordinary medical intervention.
What can we learn from the life of Alfie Evans?
Alfie’s life has touched hearts and minds around the globe. As we watch what is happening to him and how he and his parents are treated, we are reminded just how fragile life and liberty are and how we have a duty to protect and defend the dignity of all human persons. To most of us, it is unconscionable that anyone would deny parents their God-given right to care for and protect their children. But it’s happening right in front of our eyes. This is not the first time and it certainly won’t be the last. So from Alfie’s story the hope is that we become emboldened and empowered. We let the flame of love for life that has been ignited burn brightly and we do something. We treat others a little better. We stand proudly as 100% pro-life people, without fear, for those who cannot defend themselves and we take the opportunity to educate ourselves and pass this knowledge along to our peers.
As stories like those of Alfie Evans and Charlie Gard come up in the news, the best thing parents and teachers can do for their children is to start conversations. Teens especially will have their own thoughts and feelings about what is happening. We need to listen. We need to instruct. We need to clarify and help them see through the lies spread by the culture of death through the media. And we need to give them a plan of action going forward.
Though we pour our hearts and prayers into either begging God to heal Alfie or prepare his parents for the moment that he is called to his eternal rest, we must also see this as an opportunity to begin difficult conversations with our children. It is an opportunity to take a firsthand look at the euthanasia mentality that pervades our world to help our young people understand that euthanasia and the persecution of sick and vulnerable people are unjust, evil, and cruel, no matter how many earthly authorities endorse such behavior.