This is the Supremacy of the Strong Over the Weak
Though it appears, for now, that the strong do indeed reign supreme over the weak, we can take hope in the knowledge that it will not always be thus.
Recently, I wrote an article about the arrival of the newest Royal Baby. The birth of Prince Louis, the son of Prince William and the lovely Kate Middleton, was of course met with much fanfare and excitement. For whatever reason people all over the world, myself included, just can’t seem to get enough of British royalty and intrigue.
But there was actually another little boy who’d won my affections, who was making international headlines at around the same time. He was, coincidentally, also from Britain, but instead of being heir to a throne and living in a palace, he was the son of young, working-class parents from Liverpool. And while he was a relative nobody compared to the much-anticipated Prince Louis, he somehow managed to endear himself to the entire world in a mere matter of days.
That boy, of course, was Alfie Evans.
The strange and tragic case of the toddler with the undiagnosed brain disorder, who has since passed away, captivated and confounded most everyone who followed it. Why was Alder Hey Hospital insisting he be removed from life support, against his parents’ wishes? Why wouldn’t the hospital or local magistrates allow Alfie to be transported to Italy for a second opinion, and for “palliative care in line with Catholic principles?” Why was the boy deprived of nutrition and hydration (and oxygen) for dozens of hours? Was this ultimately a problem of socialized medicine, government overreach, or a child caught up in an ideological battle?
Days later, there are sadly still more questions than answers here. We may never know the reason things played out as they did, and as Alfie’s parents are left to grieve the devastating loss of their son, the rest of us find ourselves debating the issues of parental rights, universal health care and end-of-life options.
As Catholics we of course know that God is the very author of life. We know that life matters, greatly, regardless what one might or might not accomplish. And this is because our understanding of life is rooted in the divine and sacred, as opposed to merely the utilitarian.
Yet some (including many Catholics) believe that no wrong was done in the sad story of Alfie Evans. Some say that a desperate and reactionary pro-life community (pro-lifers always seem to be in the hot seat these days) has merely politicized a tragedy. The hospital is being unfairly slandered, they argue, and the physicians and nurses and judges involved had only the child’s best interests at heart. Because it was time for Alfie to die, and for his parents to let go.
And while (with what I know at this point, anyway) I wouldn’t necessarily make the case that someone wanted to kill the boy out of impure motives, I also won’t concede that it was in his best interests to be removed from life support. I don’t believe that Alder Hey was right in doing so. Not when an Italian hospital was willing to take, evaluate and treat Alfie. Not when Italy had granted him citizenship. Not when his parents weren’t ready to say goodbye. There’s simply too much here to cast aside, and it’s too important to just look away and shrug off. The ideology that rejects the Christian notion of meaningful suffering, and which claims that the sick and disabled are better off dead (whether aborted pre-birth or put to death later), is alive and well in the world today. Particularly in the West. We need to be, at the very least, cautious when considering end-of-life care. We must stand up for Catholic values and speak the truth about life — that all life is valuable, and must be treated with dignity. We should proclaim the rights of parents over those of the state.
When I woke up to the sad news that Alfie had died, I felt both heartbroken and frustrated. The beautiful little boy, that nobody had even heard of even just a month prior, had managed to touch millions of hearts, mine included, in a profound way. I can’t begin to imagine what his parents are feeling, particularly after fighting so long and so hard for his life.
Pope St. John Paul II wrote in Evangelium Vitae that, “The criterion of personal dignity — which demands respect, generosity and service — is replaced by the criterion of efficiency, functionality and usefulness: others are considered not for what they ‘are,’ but for what they ‘have, do and produce.’ This is the supremacy of the strong over the weak.” And though it appears, for now, that the strong do indeed reign supreme over the weak, we can take hope in the knowledge that it will not always be thus. We know who wins in the end. But we must be careful not to become complacent. We must continue asking questions, sharing truth, and speaking up for the vulnerable, the suffering, and the least of these.
It’s the very least we can do to honor the profoundly beautiful and important life of one of Britain’s most charming little boys, Alfie Evans.
One of the things that struck me most about the way that Alder Hey refused the Evans family’s repeated plea for alternative options was the fact that Alfie’s actual condition remained undiagnosed. He’d appeared healthy at birth, and yet several months later began having seizures. As a mother myself, even if I’d come to accept that my child’s situation was terminal, I’d want to know what exactly was going on before removing life support.