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Home | 2018

The case of Alfie Evans

Posted by Thersites on UTC 2018-04-29 13:02.

We heartless bastards on this website prefer grief to be a private emotion.

It can be shared with intimates but the more it is put on show to strangers and the wider its audience is, the more indecorous it inevitably becomes, in that it forces observers to wave a flag of feelings that they cannot possibly have for someone they do not know.

Consider the case of Alfie Evans. Isn't it already striking that we can speak of the 'case of Alfie Evans'?

Alfie Evans

If we just speak of Alfie Evans the infant, we speak of the child who was born in Liverpool on 9 May 2016. He was born with a rare and unknown degenerative brain condition. The condition was untreatable. Seven months after his birth he was admitted to Alder Hey Children's Hospital after suffering seizures. He was put on a life support system.

He was a body with almost no brain, incapable of performing autonomously even the deepest functions such as breathing, let alone the higher functions such as visual perception and consciousness. When his father tells the world that the infant 'looks me in the eye' and wants his help, that is what the father chooses to see – the infant sees nothing.

For the avoidance of all doubt: after he was taken off the system on 23 April of this year the child survived for only four days. Nowhere in the world was there a medication or a procedure that could have saved him.

In December of 2017, after a year on life support, the hospital wanted to discontinue the treatment and let the child die. There could be no rational hope of a cure.

Did you see what I did there? I wrote a reasoned account of the objective situation. The waves of hate are heading for me already. After stating his name at the beginning of this section I referred to him always with a third person pronoun or as 'the child'. Had I written 'let Alfie die' or 'let little Alfie die' or 'let baby Alfie die', no eye would have been dry by now.

These days anyone in public life goes through the sensitivity training that forbids them to use neutral designations – 'the child' must always be referred to as 'Alfie', preferably with the appropriate sympathy diminutive, otherwise Twitter will 'explode'. Empathy, even towards a complete stranger, must always be correctly signalled. Objectivity is held to be just cold-heartedness.

The case of Alfie Evans

If we speak of the 'case of Alfie Evans' we speak of a campaign launched by the baby's parents to… well, what it wanted to do changed from moment to moment. The parents were desperate to get their son the best possible help and explore all avenues for his treatment. How can we blame them for that?

But their baby was effectively lost to them and they were already passing through the early stages of grief in that rather questionable Kübler-Ross model – denial, anger and bargaining – and doing this under the spotlights of the media.

The media, who always like a human interest story, and every other group with an axe to grind –  'Pro-Life' activists in the USA, Roman Catholics and Liverpudlians generally  – made sure that the tragedy became a campaign. The parents were given a megaphone to articulate their feelings as they passed through their stages of grief.

The 'case of Madeleine McCann', the almost four-year-old who disappeared in Portugal in 2007, followed a not dissimilar trajectory. The McCanns and their friends, despite their own failings in the matter, felt that the police and other officials were failing them and within days of her disappearance a campaign was launched and the 'case of Madeleine McCann' came into existence. More than a decade later large amounts of public money are still being given to the police to pursue 'the case'.

In the 'case of Alfie Evans' it was the doctors, nurses and medical infrastructure that kept the infant alive for over a year after, in the natural order of things, he would have died in December 2016. Nevertheless, the medical professionals involved in his care were simply demonised. The campaign ramped up the situation until hospital staff were being harassed and threatened with deadly violence.

Every conceivable legal action was tried: the High Court (multiple occasions), the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court (twice), the European Court of Human Rights (twice). Each instance supported the medical professionals, which meant that the judges themselves were now demonised.

The discussion was filled with meaningless phrases such as the 'parents' right to choose', which is a right that cannot be exercised when there is, in effect, no choice left to make.

The Pro-Life campaigners in the USA and their associated big names got involved and spoke of 'death panels' adjudicating on life and death, ignoring the fact that the child in question was effectively already dead – he was simply a living corpse. The Catholics, leveraged by the Pope himself, got the child made an Italian citizen. They did this, quite perversely, even after the Italian doctors had reported that the journey to a hospital in Rome would probably make the infant's condition even worse – a state difficult to imagine.

No campaign would be complete without the mob. The parents fed quotable quotes and charming pictures to the public, which only inflamed the situation. The baby was being kept alive in Alder Hey hospital, so what is more reasonable than for two-hundred people to attempt to storm the hospital. The hospital got a police guard and its staff had to face a barrage of threats on social media from the baying mob. What is more reasonable than for the father to threaten the three doctors who had kept his son alive for a year with private prosecutions for murder?

Only after all their options were exhausted did the parents say anything good about the people who had kept their child going all that time. Finally, they got to the depression and acceptance stages of their grief.

It is customary to conclude 'case of...' discussions with some words of sympathy to the parents for their loss. Such a form of words would be easy but insincere. Our real sympathy for them evaporated after December of 2016 when their son was admitted, close to death, to hospital. The best we can say is that they are a young, ill-educated, immature and badly advised couple who in their grief became the useful and willing tools of people with a cause to promote.