Pope Francis has tweeted his support for Alfie Evans, after the parents of the critically ill British baby lost a court battle to keep their child on life support.
Tom Evans and Kate James had appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to prevent doctors at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool from pulling the plug on their 22-month-old son, afflicted with a rare degenerative neurological condition, but lost their legal battle in late March.
In his tweet Wednesday, the pope said he hoped that “everything necessary may be done in order to continue compassionately accompanying little Alfie Evans, and that the deep suffering of his parents may be heard.”
He added that he was praying for the child, his family and all involved.
It is my sincere hope that everything necessary may be done in order to continue compassionately accompanying little Alfie Evans, and that the deep suffering of his parents may be heard. I am praying for Alfie, for his family and for all who are involved.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) April 4, 2018
As it did with the case of young Charlie Gard, the Vatican’s Bambino Gesù hospital offered to treat Alfie, even though consultants from the hospital agreed that there was no chance of curing him after visiting Alfie in Liverpool. The Vatican hospital offered to take him to Rome for operations to help him breathe and eat, which would have allowed him to survive for an “undefined period.”
In late February, Judge Anthony Hayden of the London High Court authorized doctors at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool to remove the ventilator that keeps Alfie alive. Alfie’s parents hoped that the ECHR might overrule the decision by declaring it a human rights violation.
In his decision, Judge Hayden had cited a message from Pope Francis in which the pontiff spoke of the ethical legitimacy of withdrawing “overzealous treatment” in the case of terminally ill patients. Critics noted that the pope’s words were misappropriated by the judge, since according to Catholic teaching “overzealous treatment” does not generally refer to basic life support — ventilation, hydration and nutrition — but to futile therapeutic measures that cause suffering with little benefit to the patient.
Here the pope was merely restating Catholic teaching, as explained in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. “Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate; it is the refusal of ‘over-zealous’ treatment.”
The Catechism goes on to say: “Even if death is thought imminent, the ordinary care owed to a sick person cannot be legitimately interrupted.”
In the similar case of Charlie Gard, the child’s parents fought to have their baby withdrawn from the care of Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital to seek experimental treatment overseas for his mitochondrial condition.
Against the parents’ wishes, the UK courts ordered the hospital to take the child off life support and let him die, despite the Gards having raised over one million pounds for Charlie’s transportation and private hospital care. A number of public figures pledged their help and support for Charlie, including Pope Francis and U.S. President Donald Trump. Baby Charlie died on July 28th, 2017.
Alfie’s father now says they could switch off his son’s ventilator as early as Friday.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter Follow @tdwilliamsrome