Vatican Corner 05-06-18


Alfie Evans, a British toddler, just weeks short of his second birthday, died April 28, 2018, in Liverpool’s Alder Hey Hospital. He was the son of Kate James, 20, and Tom Evans, 21, and his story touched the hearts of many, including Pope Francis, and his plight raised serious medical ethics questions. Alfie was first admitted to the hospital after suffering seizures in December 2016, where he remained there in a semi-vegetative state until the end. The doctors diagnosed a degenerative neurological condition which they could not identify. They said scans showed “catastrophic degradation of his brain issue” and further treatment was not only “futile” but also “unkind and inhumane”. Alfie’s parents and the hospital clashed over what should happen to Alfie. The parents wanted to fly him to the Catholic Bamino Gesu Hospital in Rome but this was blocked by the Liverpool hospital who went to court to seek a declaration that “continued ventilator support was not in Alfie’s best interest, and in the circumstances it is not lawful for such treatment to continue.” The law in the UK makes it clear that where a child is at risk of harm the state can and should intervene, and the rights of the parents are not absolute. If the public hospital disagrees with the parents’ choices, they must go to court in order to override the parental responsibility. One of the dilemmas Alfie’s case raised is whether doctors are the right people to determine if withdrawing life-support treatment is in “the best interests” of a terminally ill child or should the parents decide. The court ruled that the doctor’s could stop providing life support for Alfie against his parents wishes. One of the problems was that despite the life support tubes, Alfie looked normal and he would open his eyes and smile. But the hospital said that was just spontaneous seizures as a result of touching. Alfie parents refused to give up hope, and went to the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court, the European Court of Human Rights, and finally made a claim of “unlawfully detainment”, but with no success. A date was set for switching off the life support. Mr. Evans flew to Rome and met with Pope Francis and pleaded with him to “save our son.” Pope Francis said “Bring Alfie here! Francis expressed his support for the family saying “I renew my appeal that the suffering of his parents may be heard and that their desire to seek new forms of treatment may be granted.” Even the Italian government granted Alfie Italian citizenship in attempt to facilitate his transfer to the Italian hospital without success. Life-support was withdrawn, and Alfie was only expected to live a few minutes, but Alfie continued to live and breath on his own. Another court action upheld the ruling preventing traveling abroad after life support was withdrawn. Alfie lived almost exactly 100 hours from the !me his breathing support machinery was removed. Upon his death his mother and father said they were heart broken but thanked everyone for their support. In St. Peter’s Square, about 300 people gathered holding candles and prayed for Alfie and all children. Pope Francis said “I am deeply moved by the death of little Alfie. Today I pray especially for his parents, as God the Father receives him in his tender embrace.”

Sources:,East Bay Times Newspaper, Robert Moynihan Letters.