Brussels, Belgium, 26 April 2018—World Youth Alliance is deeply concerned about recent events involving British toddler Alfie Evans. Alfie is an almost two-year-old child who has been hospitalized for several months with an unknown neurodegenerative condition. The hospital caring for him sought and ultimately received permission to remove assisted ventilation, against his parents’ wishes. They expected that he would die shortly after its removal on Monday evening, although as of writing he has continued to live.
Respect for human dignity does not require pursuing all treatments to extend life for as long as possible. In some circumstances, such as ones where no treatment can cure, death is likely imminent, and further therapies will cause pain and suffering, it can be appropriate to cease life-prolonging treatments.
Nevertheless, WYA is troubled that in line with the court order the hospital removed all support measures, including those providing him food and water. Food and water to those who cannot feed themselves is ordinary care and should not be withdrawn as “extraordinary measures.” Alfie went a number of hours without nourishment even though he is still able to process nutrients. Thankfully, these ordinary measures of support were restored the following day. WYA hopes that that the medical staff will ensure that Alfie’s basic needs continue to be met.
WYA recognizes the good intentions of the doctors and the courts to act in Alfie’s best interests. However, Alfie is not suffering, and continued medical support will not cause him any pain or distress. His parents’ desire to continue therapies will not bring him harm, nor damage his dignity, which is innate and inviolable. Parents have rights and duties to care for their children’s wellbeing. Absent findings of harm, the decisions of parents should be respected. If the hospital is no longer willing to provide care, it should not prevent the parents from seeking other assistance.
Alfie Evans’ illness and care pose complex challenges. But the love and care which surround him are an important witness to the value of every human person, however brief his or her life may be. WYA wishes Alfie and his family comfort and peace in his final days.