I offered my Mass intention on Monday for the parents of Alfie Evans. It is almost impossible to imagine what they have been through. Alfie himself, I am sure, rests in the loving arms of his heavenly Father, a significant consideration to temper the grief for those who have faith, but not one that could ever justify the ending of a life because it was burdensome.
Ironically, the reality that Alfie was going to a better place was not a factor informing the considerations of the secular court, which made its determination that it was in his “best interests” to die even more incomprehensible, given that, by all accounts, a reasonable alternative was readily available and the child was not in pain.
I had a sagacious Old Testament professor who used to say: “Specialists create their own specialisations.” The tragic unfolding of this case reminded me of his axiom. I have a profound unease at the way these events unfolded and really struggle to understand their significance given the opposed opinions of bodies I am ordinarily disposed to respect, such as our own bishops’ conference, the US bishops’ conference and the Anscombe Bioethics Centre.
I am sure there are considerations of which I am unaware. But I am suspicious of the idea that a decision to end a life because it is burdensome is so specialist as to be incomprehensible to the sensibilities not just of loving parents but also of some Catholic hierarchies, to Catholic medical ethicists and even to some secular governments. The idea that only “fundamentalists” oppose what happened is actually a projection of the state’s own stance.
We were asked to accept the premise that Alfie’s best interest was to die now, despite a clear alternative being presented. Ordinary people – not fundamentalists – find this very hard to understand. I think this is because the ethic deciding such an outcome for that little child was a purely scientific one, not one informed by metaphysical or theological considerations. To be sure, it is not Catholic teaching to maintain biological life at all costs, but in the world of common sense there is a readily perceptible difference between maintaining life at all costs and maintaining it at the cost of simply trying a practicable alternative freely available.
To balance the certain outcome of withdrawing treatment and nourishment against the hypothesis that this person cannot improve, and then opt for the former really does seem to me to be playing God. The law is being compelled to uphold not the sovereignty of life, but that of the medical profession, and by extension the right to end life according to a specialist state-determined ethic of what makes a life burdensome or worthwhile.
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