The case of Alfie Evans has captured the attention of the world. And as his medical and legal battles continue to unfold, many are wondering how this kind of thing could happen, and whether it could happen here in the United States.
Alfie Evans is a British toddler who has spent over a year in a hospital in Liverpool. He is believed to have a neurodegenerative disease, and the hospital determined that, due to his brain damage, he no longer had a quality of life worth sustaining. Over the objections of Alfie’s parents, the hospital ordered that his ventilator be removed on Monday so that he would be allowed to die.
The doctors told Alfie’s parents that he would die shortly after the ventilator was removed, but little Alfie continued breathing on his own for hours. Alfie’s parents have been fighting to move him to a different hospital in order to seek alternative treatments, but the British courts denied their request, even posting armed guards at the hospital to prevent the child from being moved.
Pope Francis has intervened on Alfie’s behalf, and Alfie has been granted Italian citizenship so that he can be transported to Bambino Gesu Pediatric Hospital, a Vatican hospital that serves as the main pediatric hospital for southern Italy.
While the courts have now allowed Alfie’s parents to take him home, they have imposed a travel ban on the family, preventing them from taking Alfie to Italy for treatment.
Alfie’s case bears many similarities to the situation of Charlie Gard just last year, where the decisions of the parents were overruled by the courts. With these situations in Britain gaining worldwide attention, it has led many to wonder how this could happen, and whether this will become the new normal in medical practices around the world.
Father Tad Pacholczyk, Director of Education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center, stopped by Morning Air® to discuss the Alfie Evans case, and how likely it is that something similar would happen in the U.S.
“They won’t allow them to go home, they won’t allow them to bring in other doctors, they won’t allow them to take the child to another country where there might be other possibilities,” explained Fr. Tad. “It’s a very draconian situation in Britain now, with this type of hospital system that they have.”
“Kate and Tom, the parents here, have been very proactive and remarkably effective, thankfully, in getting the kind of care their child needs. And I think this new turn of having him go home can only work to Alfie’s advantage at this stage of the game.”
Alfie’s case has gained worldwide attention, but is this situation quietly going on in hospitals around the U.S.?
“There have been battles of this type where there will be a different view of what an individual patient needs or deserves,” Fr. Tad said. “But I would say in the U.S. we don’t have the same kind of despotic hospital system that we see in Great Britain. Not only a hospital system, but a judicial system that seems to be weighted in the direction of not allowing parents to make decisions for their own children.”
“So, this kind of thing, in the U.S., we don’t see routinely. We’ll only see occasional differences between parents and doctors, which usually get worked out through a dialogue and exchange where you come to a mutual agreement about what is an appropriate direction to go. And in general, in the U.S. it still remains the case that parents are the proper proxy for making decisions for their own children.”
So what can families with a seriously-ill loved one expect from the U.S. medical system? Fr. Tad explained, “There is a lot of variability. I think that in the hospitals in the U.S. today, each family will have a slightly different experience, but I do think that there is a clear sense that whoever the designated decision-maker is, that chain of command is still respected in the U.S.”
“So that’s an important distinction here,” he continued. “We haven’t had powerful, overreaching courts, except in a few prominent cases. So in that sense, we’re not in the same place as they are in Great Britain.”
But while the cases of Alfie Evans and Charlie Gard have been bizarre and heartbreaking, Fr. Tad suggested that their situations – and the attention they have received – could be an impetus for changing the system into one that respects parental rights and the dignity of the human person.
“This has been such a prominent case, and it continues on,” he said. “People will be looking at this, along with the Charlie Gard case, which had a similar trajectory, and people in Great Britain are going to have to start asking themselves if this is the kind of medicine they want for their young people. They are routinely abandoned by the medical system and forcibly pushed down certain paths.”
“Hopefully there will be enough of a pushback here where they will have to change how things are done. I think the potential for that exists. There is clearly more work to be done.”
Listen to the full conversation below: