The Death of Alfie Evans, and the Death of Natural Rights

The ancients have taught us that a tragedy isn’t any and all bad things that happen, or any death—it is a situation where a hero runs up against the limits of politics and is destroyed. He is confused by what is happening to him. As a hero, he thinks he’s doing exactly what society expects of him, and doing it better than everyone else. Assuming he’ll be loved and honored for his heroism, he comes into conflict with the very people whose reverence he wants to earn.

In the United Kingdom, a child’s fate was decided in a situation that calls forth the same meanings. The boy, Alfie Evans, died on Saturday at 23 months of age. He had been hospitalized with a rare neurological condition. The doctors decided treatment was futile and recommended it be stopped. The parents went to court to continue treatment. A judge sided with the doctors, and sent the police to make sure no one would interrupt what amounted to a medical homicide. The parents, trying everything they could to save their child, saw their own powerlessness in the powerlessness of the infant even as all involved in this situation were stripped of their innocence.

The authorities removed oxygen from the boy, who, however, refused to die during the day he was left without medical care. Like all living things, the boy wished to live, even with his disease, and so the authorities put him back on life support. At that point the father went to see the Pope, who offered the boy protection in an Italian hospital. The Italian state offered the boy citizenship and to fly him to treatment. The judge refused to allow his parents to take Alfie to treatment.

It was just another event in the news, but it is also a fundamental conflict between faith and the state— between sacred law and political power. The several judges who came to be involved in the case seemed sure that the state should take the child from the family. They told his parents that he would inevitably die, and they insisted on the state’s taking responsibility for assuring death when they did not have to. The court insisted that his death en route to a hospital still willing to treat him would not be tolerated.

What does this conflict mean in terms of freedom and virtue?

The authorities thought they were doing justice. The parents thought they should be free to seek care for their child in another country. The state disagreed and insisted that it would be illegal for them to do so. Observe how each party viewed the requirements of virtue: The father thought he was doing the right thing in taking his boy to the hospital, to save his life. Everything about being a British subject was turned upside down, for he was now required to define the right thing as consenting to allow his child to die on the orders of the very authorities who were supposed to defend Alfie’s rights, starting with his right to life. This father was in the situation of a tragic hero.

What was done was done legally, with expertise, in full view of the public, all according to authorized powers to whom everyone deferred. The judges and doctors embodied a view of justice and wisdom which few seemed to be arguing against publicly—not politicians, not the high officials of the Anglican Church, not any other important organization. Nor were there massive protests over this boy’s fate. It would seem that those who represented the majority of the people of Britain decided in favor of Alder Hey Hospital, so much so that the authority of two parents over their child was denied.

This is a view of the state that would tend to make self-government impossible, for it removes the ground of the difference between freedom and obedience to authority. Theoretically, such a state cannot be legitimated by the consent of the governed, because it does not secure their rights, starting with the right to life. It is legitimated instead by its expert and orderly administration of rules of its own making. Theoretically, the state has assumed control of human life and the definition of its limits—death, ultimately. The state has secured passive consent, so that if it does not face a revolution, there’s nothing to worry about.

Kate James and Tom Evans, Alfie’s parents, argued for their freedom, and for their right to decide for their child. They obviously thought, in taking their child to the hospital, that they had certain rights as subjects of the sovereign and certain duties to their child. Had they let him die, which was what the state would later insist on doing, they might have been prosecuted for neglect. They acted freely, but at the same time compelled by necessity. They sought to match their own moral virtues with the intellectual virtues of the doctors, for the National Health Service is a public institution. This turned out to be impossible.

From Social Contract to Suicide Pact

Britons believe that the rights their government should secure for them include a right to healthcare through the National Health Service. This is the law of the land, and a man like Tom Evans is brought to his crisis because he fulfills the requirements of the laws and believes in their justice—only to find out that the community he is part of does not believe in those rights, but instead in something else.

Since it is not reasonable to expect parents—Tom Evans, other Britons who have come into conflict with the NHS over the fate of their ill children in the past, the others who will no doubt do so in the future—to respect such decisions by the government, it can make no claim to their allegiance under the right to life. Indeed the state is discovering entirely different sources of legitimacy involving not the protection of life, but the weighing and culling of lives and the decision as to what life is worth living and what life is not worth living.

This is the tragic conflict almost everyone is ignoring. We do not think any of us should be put in such a situation in any country where politics is built on human rights. We must now confront an example of one of the most prosperous, peaceful, and sophisticated countries in the world reorienting itself away from saving lives to ending them, if the life doesn’t seem worth living.

To some extent, British authority is now a suicide pact, to borrow the phrase of Justice Robert Jackson, who insisted that the U.S. Constitution was not one. Something very important has been lost if the right to life depends on circumstances ascertained by experts and decided on by judges. And if British hospital and police personnel are willing to enforce such decisions, the loss seems coextensive with the British state. It is not an exception, but the new rule.

Up to now, we have understood our freedom as oriented by the goodness, providential or natural, of life. Consider what follows from a government’s holding the power over life or death beyond the levying of the death penalty—which Britain abolished in 1998—upon criminals found guilty after due process of law. Freedom, at that point, can be said to rationally prefer suicide to life. This nihilistic turn has been taken because the authorities have abandoned the teaching of natural rights which was the most important political creed in Britain and in America, the two nations that best withstood the catastrophic tyrannies of the 20th century. It is a question whether the people themselves, unlike their rulers, still believe in their rights, believe that their rights make them free, and believe that their freedom conduces, through the exercise of certain virtues, to the living of a good life.

Shifting the Basis of the Political Community

Our understanding up to now has been that our rights are things we can hold in common. That my right to life and yours and everyone else’s—that all these rights are compatible and in fact that we need each other in order to secure them. Beyond the debate over abortion, our fundamental choice is to be part of a political community where our right to life is protected. That grounds our reasoning about our own interests and how to pursue them. If one person’s right to life is negated by an authority’s judgment that that life is not worth living, there can be no more commonality than between killer and killed.

Our press and those who operate our legal system seem shockingly unable to understand the seriousness of our predicament, much less to solve the problem. If virtue ends up meaning compelling the termination of medical treatment for children, then humanity will come to be defined as paying the least respect to the least among us. This puts an end to human equality.

I suggest that we need to start learning tragedy again to understand our situation as it really is. Our ideas about science and rights are now so confused that things like the hospital-mandated death of Alfie Evans occur in broad daylight and there is little protest. We do not think of Britain as being like North Korea. It is much more like the United States, so the trouble concerns us, too. What it means to lodge the power of life and death in the government, and what it means to place citizens in a radical conflict between love of family and the law—these things are more the stuff of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Antigone, and less what our laws, our press, and our public opinion seem able to handle.

We have become strangers to ourselves. We do not see what we’re doing and consenting to have done in our names. We have to learn again what our rights fundamentally are and what it means to be a good man and a good citizen—what it means to be free and virtuous. Civics classes won’t do. Stories that reveal our own crisis are necessary. We must learn what is right, and we will not learn it except by confronting the ugliest injustices we think ourselves incapable of. We did not get to this situation in one leap; it is the product of ignoring the corruption of our understanding of justice.

Reader Discussion

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on May 03, 2018 at 08:12:45 am

Great piece. Thank you.

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David Linton
on May 03, 2018 at 10:32:07 am

Techera makes several references to a “right to life.” I’m no expert in English law, but the US Founders signed the Declaration of Independence acknowledged that people have an inalienable right to life. And apparently this right is a myth, in that 100% of the Founders are now dead.

In short, there is no such “right to life” as Techera uses the term. I am unaware of anyone who disputes that the proximate cause of Alfie Evans’s death was an incurable medical condition. If Alfie or his executors believe that his right to life was impaired, let them sue Fate, because Fate appears to be the responsible party.

Alfie’s parents did not want to accept the diagnosis. And they were under no obligation to do so. However, Alfie still had a dire medical condition and was under medical care. The medical experts concluded that the parent’s plans for Alfie would involve subjecting Alfie to great pain, and for no benefit. Ok, not no benefit; it would produce the benefit of letting the parents evade the realization that their child was dying for a few hours more. Rightly or wrongly, the medical authorities concluded that this was an insufficient basis for torturing an innocent child.

Indeed, there’s ambiguity about the legal authority for a parent to merely spank a child in the UK. Green MSP John Finnie has introduced legislation in the Scottish Parliament to ban the practice, and the Sun reports that the Scottish government expects the proposal will be implemented. Welsh Minister for Children Huw Irranca-Davies proposes similar legislation for Wales. In short, if natural law creates some kind of presumption that parents may inflict pain on their offspring willy-nilly, the Alfie Evans case is hardly the only threat to this principle.

Dr. Scott Alexander wrote a lovely essay about how most of us will die—bedridden, racked with pain, demented, and longing for death—and how awful it will be, precisely BECAUSE of our obsession with preserving life at all cost. In his concluding passages, he states,

I work in a Catholic hospital. People here say the phrase “culture of life” a lot, as in “we need to cultivate a culture of life.” They say it almost as often as they say “patient-centered”. At my hospital orientation, a whole bunch of nuns and executives and people like that got up and told us how we had to do our part to “cultivate a culture of life.”

And now every time I hear that phrase I want to scream. 21st century American hospitals do not need to “cultivate a culture of life”. We have enough life. We have life up the wazoo. We have more life than we know what to do with. We have life far beyond the point where it becomes a sick caricature of itself. We prolong life until it becomes a sickness, an abomination, a miserable and pathetic flight from death that saps out and mocks everything that made life desirable in the first place. 21st century American hospitals need to cultivate a culture of life the same way that Newcastle needs to cultivate a culture of coal, the same way a man who is burning to death needs to cultivate a culture of fire.

Alfie Evans had a terminal medical condition. That’s sad, and his parents have my sympathy. But my sympathy is not carte blanche to commit torture of the innocent. People who are addicted to drugs also have my sympathy, but that does not lead me to the conclusion that we should therefore provide them with the drugs they crave. And if this seems as if I’m failing to honor their autonomy, well, you’re right—I am. And when I’m drug-addicted, I hope you’ll refuse to honor my autonomy, too.

It’s entirely foreseeable that drug-addicted people will continue pursuing drugs long past the point of benefit. Just as it’s entirely foreseeable the grief-addled parents will pursue medical treatment for their dying child long past the point of benefit. It’s bad enough that they’d squander their resources, but the state doesn’t necessarily keep people from doing that. But when they also want follow a course of action that would subject innocent third parties to needless agony, that state is justified in preventing this outcome.

Again, I’m no expert in natural law, but the idea that the state would intervene to stop the torture of the innocent does not strike me as problematic.

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on May 03, 2018 at 10:45:49 am

I'm glad you liked it! If you are on social media--we'd appreciate it if you shared it. We're trying to reach as many people as we can...

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Titus Techera
on May 03, 2018 at 10:48:18 am

Your misunderstanding of natural rights teaching is part of what I'm talking about. If you wish, Dr. Tom G. West has great books on the Founders that could help you learn what they meant. Harry Jaffa & Walter Berns also.

But to the specifics of the case--read the statements of the judges & barristers for the hospitals: They argued that Alfie Evans could not feel pain. I repeat NOT feel--in fact, anything, to give a specific statement in court--could not even feel a mother's touch.

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Titus Techera
on May 03, 2018 at 11:50:00 am


That is one of your more disgraceful commentaries. Viewing life as an abomination and that the value of such a "painful" life must be placed in the hands of *experts* (such as yourself?). Then again, why does this not surprise me. After all, you had recently dis missed the phenomenon of "parental love" as just another *incentive driven* behavior. Apparently, the UK / EU bureaucrats agree with you.
Lost in all of your vicious, yet "reasonable" statements is the fact that one's very existence is now to be continued or discontinued based upon the whims of some government functionary. (It should also be remarked that Hospital personnel were quoted as saying that Alfies parents "had better get their attitudes adjusted or they will not be getting anywhere. sorry I lost the link to the UK piece).

And you accept the notion that the young lad was being tortured - based upon what? - the self-serving justifications of those who sought to implement the very policy that would end his life. Rather convenient!

I am sorry but this act of yours in which you position yourself as a dispassionate yet reasonable observer is exposed by your attempt to justify Alfie's death by claiming that Scotland will now outlaw "spanking". By your lights the spanking of a child having been found to be unreasonable and cruel is the equivalent of a parent seeking further medical treatment for a 23 month old child; and since spanking is outlawed, we must also outlaw extended medical care for a dying child.
What manner of arrogance is this?

Once again, you and your ilk, (UK doctors, judges, EU bureaucrats) demonstrate that the facade of dispassionate review of events / policy is nothing more than a PASSIONATE disinterest in the values of the "uninformed" "bad attitude" citizenry. Your type can be quite passionate when it comes to denying natural rights - except those that you prefer. So here we see nobody reaaly believes that one is entitled by right to have a sex change operation BUT NOT extended medical care / second opinion for a dying 23 month old.

And, for all your past attempts to deny that Obamacare would result in death panels - BULLSHIT! - as here, in the UK we see the eventual rise, implementation and as Titus Techera demonstrates, the acceptance of such practices by the now all too powerful provider of medical *benefits* to the British citizenry. This is the saddest of all developments - that nobody really raised an outcry. And it CAN happen here and will if the likes of the world's nobodys continue to hold sway.

Oops, I am mistaken - OUR nobody really raised OUTRAGEOUS support for such liberty denying policies. And you who so famously and repeatedly assert that government action is required to counter certain "externalities" of the market, will you also raise a voice against the *INTERNALITIES* arising from a government controlled medical dictatorship provided with the power to determine who shall live and who shall die. What justifications did the NHS conjure up? How does it sustain their own institution? and the position of the specific individuals involved.
My God - it must be Bloody wonderful to be a Progressive. What with the "March of History and all that - Progressives get to see their wildest power filled fantasies acted out. And what greater power is there than to decide WHO shall live and who shall die.
As R Richard frequently reminds us: Institutions / Governments ARE people and these people act not with the noble intentions they would have us believe motivates them but rather with all the same self-serving, self aggrandizing motives that operate in any business, academy, etc.
Nobody really can justify this on economic terms because nobody really views humans as homo economicus, as I am sure the UK bureaucrats did.

Yet, curious is it not that when offered an opportunity to transfer the young lad and escape the costs associated with his care that the bureaucrats chose not to do so. One wonders what else may have motivated these folks? could it be something akin to the surly arrogance of the local Dept of Motor Vehicle employee who revels in the exercise of the power associated with his position? All this talk of "torture" was simply a means of justifying their decision.

AND YEP NOBODY - You are not an expert in natural law - not even close.
Take Techera's recommendation and read Tom West's new book. My goodness, you may actually learn that there is more to man (and the USA) than a market sensibility.

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Image of gabe
on May 03, 2018 at 12:09:08 pm

I stand by my prior arguments, based on the idea that any stimulation, such as the stimulation of moving Evans, would trigger brain-damaging seizures.

But I concede that facts about the child's medical condition changed over time. If the child's brain had become so damaged that the child was neither sentient or sensible (able to feel pain), and if there was no prospect of recovery in any event, then it becomes harder to identify the state's interest in this matter.

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Image of nobody.really
on May 03, 2018 at 12:32:33 pm

Very briefly, one issue (among many) is that there is no fixed concept of futility. Medical ethicists describe at least four different types of futility, with the ones most relevant here being physiologic futility and quality of life futility. Physiolgic futility means the intervention will not have the intended therapeutic effect; for example it is futile to treat brain cancer or pneumonia with baking soda. Quality of life futility means that the intervention, even if physiologically or therapeutically effective will result in debility that makes the prospect of continued life objectively undesirable. Then there is imminent death futility, even if the therapy is physiologically effective and the patient is likely to retain his faculties until the time of death, death will not be postponed significantly by the therapy. Treating someone who has sustained a lethal dose of radiation is an example.

What distinguishes the practical import of these different types of futility is values. The case of Alfie Evans was not physiologically futile; the care was keeping him alive and that's why the hospital and doctors sought to discontinue it. It was not imminent death futile; who knows how long Alfie could have survived had support been maintained? The crux of this case was quality of life futility, and this is a matter of values. Some people think the ideal is to go out kicking and screaming, raging against the dying of the light, whatever life's condition. Some people take a religious attitude, and believe in miracles. To some people even the thought of lifelong debility is intolerable and resort to suicide.

It is tricky for third parties to try and guess what a patient's values will be in a particular case. In a study about twenty years ago, burn unit nurses were asked if they would want to be kept alive if they had severe burns. Eighty percent said "no." When they asked actual burn patients, the results were reversed.

Doctors are under no obligation to provide care that they believe is futile. Payors are under no obligation to pay for care that is futile, as long as it is clear that they are applying a consistent objective definition. But Patients and their surrogates should be allowed to seek care from providers who share their view that continued treatment may be beneficial to the patient; that we do not know, for example if there was something in Alfie Evans's life that was meaningful, that despite the opinion of doctors, he could be happy and could sense the presence of a loving mother, even if he was unable to provide an observable response to it.

What is puzzling and troubling about this case is that the government refused to let Alfie's parents seek alternative care, essentially on grounds that such care was futile according to the values that they prescribed. There are several things to be disquieted about in this case, apart from the obvious sorrow of the parents and unfortunate life of Alfie. There is the inevitable leben unwertens leben inference. There is the suspicion that the prestige and authority of the NHS was in question and therefore had an influence on the government's position. But what really gives pause is that the government apparently undertook to tell a child and his family what their values should be.

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on May 03, 2018 at 12:43:44 pm

nobody: to your 12:09 comment:

"...it becomes harder to identify the state’s interest in this matter."

And upon what is the presumption that the State has an interest in the matter based anyway. One's life is NOT the State's interest - remembering, of course, that the *State* is nothing more than an aggregate of persons, all of whom have their own unique motivations ("incentives" to use your favored term). These persons comprise the institutions of the State AND these institutions, in turn, develop their own unique motivations, incentives and behaviors / policies designed and implemented with a view toward sustaining the INSTITUTION, not necessarily the individuals comprising the polity.

And you would have us submit ourselves to these persons, well-motivated, of course), to have our existence determined by the *rational decisions* that their expertise and dispassion (yeah?) enables them to make.

Unless, of course, your entire commentary is another example of your penchant for satire. Perhaps, that is it because I cannot believe that even you can be so morally bankrupt, so arrogant as to assume for yourself and your like minded functionaries such discretionary power. When and by what right did the *State* assume such authority? When did it become the province of the State to make such determinations as to what level of "torture" a person may be allowed to endure? when did the State assume the right to counter the considered and loving (Oops, that's right, parental love is another incentive driven FICTION) judgment of a child's parents? When did the State assume the right to deploy it's Police forces to threaten those other citizens who expressed support for parents attempting to fight State determinations (see UK news reports of UK police warning against protests and other expressions of support). It strikes me that the policies that you continually advocate on these pages will result in a further aggrandizement of state power and influence AND that schemes, such as those advocated by you and your ilk, such as National Health Care, re-distribution of wealth must, of necessity, terminate with a complete *(re-)ordering of our entire social fabric, structure, moral codes and behaviors. and it will all be done in a nice, reasoned, well tenored voice, backed, of course, by a host of econometrics.

Smile, it is good for you!!! Alfie is apparently unable to express his *thanks.*

BTW: Your commentary above is even worse than your comments asserting that military veterans were "dupes" and "patsies" some years ago on Memorial Day (posted at First things).

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Image of gabe
on May 03, 2018 at 12:48:55 pm

Z: great stuff as always:

"But what really gives pause is that the government apparently undertook to tell a child and his family what their values should be."

Yep, it gives pause BUT NOT SURPRISE. This is inevitable under the type of rational expert governance that many seek to institute here, the most recent instance being the excrescence know as ObamaCare.

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Image of gabe
on May 03, 2018 at 12:52:22 pm

If we assume that Evans could not feel pain, and that moving him would not cause any (further) harm to him, would the state have any other interests to defend?

1. gabe suggests that the state might have been interested in saving money. I regard that as a perfectly legitimate interest to defend. But because this kid had become a cause celebre, I surmise that 3d parties were willing to foot the bill for the herculean effort to extend his life. If third parties bear the costs, then the state wouldn't have a financial interest.

2. gabe also suggests that decision-makers might have been influenced by other personal incentives. I suppose that's always possible. But the most obvious incentive --to avoid becoming the object of vilification, not to mention litigation--would have tended to produce the opposite result.

3. If the child were sentient and could experience fear, arguably the state might have an interest in minimizing this kind of pain. It appears that, at least near the end, the child had lost consciousness, rendering this concern moot in this case.

4. Various statements spoke of defending the child's "dignity." Catholic theology, which tends to embrace natural law, also places a lot of reliance on dignity, so it's interesting to see these two ill-defined forces (from my perspective) arrayed against each other.

In this context, I sense dignity refers to protecting the sensibilities of onlookers who project themselves into the child's circumstances and imagine what outcome THEY would prefer. I'm not persuaded that society has an interest in defending these sensibilities. But those with more tender sensibilities might disagree. (After all, we have many laws restricting the treatment of dead (human) bodies ... although it's unclear whether those laws are motivated by "dignity" concerns or hygiene. )

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on May 03, 2018 at 13:44:28 pm

1) Others did offer to pay the costs. Thus, no state interest in that regard.
2) Quite the contrary - quite often, in order to avoid the "crack in the armor" (so to speak) an agency or an individual will double down - and steadfastly refuse to concede that there is anything wrong with their diagnosis. More importantly, I was referring to institutional objectives / preservation. One need not mention the countless instances of institutions closing ranks, withholding information, etc to consider this a s a distinct possibility. Then again, there is such a thing as 'institutional honor." - perhaps. something akin to the Police Deaprtments insular but effective code of silence.
3) My point is not whether Alfie experienced pain or how much BUT rather, what IS the State doing involving itself in such a discussion? Yes, you correctly imply that the State may have a proper interest in preventing parental abuse of a minor child via spanking. But it is debatable for even for spanking provided that no real harm is done to a child. Such blanket prohibitions against parental discipline usurps the right of a parent to effectively socialize the child. Unless, of course, we are prepared to admit that it is our express intention to so USURP that right and empower the State to assume parental responsibilities. In any event, we not here discussing a case of parental abuse, of intentional harm being caused by a parent. Rather we are considering whether a parent has a proper right against the State to insist upon treatment that arguably may extend the life of their minor child. And we wish to equate this with abuse???? Should we then expect that a parent of a horribly burned child to willingly give up CARE and concern for their child because extended treatment, such as skin grafts, WILL BE excruciatingly painful? And are we to demand that only those who theoretically are dispassionate about the matter to determine the proper course of treatment? My own experience with those grievously ill / wounded would lead me to conclude that it may be best to let the patient, or in this instance the parents make such determinations. I recognize that it is not *measurable* as nobody at times demands but familial love often is capable of ALL the necessary mental deliberations / considerations required for a proper decision. I would prefer my wife and children make such a determination were I not able to do so - and not some local functionary (who I am more likely to have pissed off anyway).

4) Yep - I suppose it depends upon what "is" is. You are correct. Superficially, a life spend confined to a hospital bed, with all manner of tubes, gizmos, etc intruding / protruding from the body would not appear to be very dignified. YET, can you not concede that there is something more to a humans self-perception than his or her appearance / physical condition? (Is this not the basis of most anti-discrimination laws?) Some philosophers / theologians assert that mere consciousness is sufficient to sustain dignity? I am partial to such a conception of dignity; thus, this may be my own bias. So what?

Last: It is rather callous to reduce dignity concerns, ( a matter for which you have expressed support in the past when it regarded SSM. Tranny, LGBT issues) to the sensibilities of onlookers. Yes, in the case of young Master Alfie, that is probably so as one can not know what sense of dignity a 2 year old may possess. Yet we must consider the implications of such a determination by outside authorities as to what constitutes dignity and if a patient is still in possession of it. Some of us may be able to draw from personal experience. skipping the details, I have known those who would appear to be "suffering" quite significantly who still possessed dignity - AND LET YOU KNOW ABOUT IT!
When they no longer did, they also let it be known that it was time for them to let go.

I see this as preferable to similar determinations being made by some officious bureaucrat / doctor.

And yes, dignity concerns were different for young Alfie. The question however ought to be: who is to assess dignity concerns in the matter? The parents or the NHS?

Whose dignity is to be considered? Alfies or also the Parents?
How dignified is it to be told that you have no interest, properly sanctioned by the State, in the ultimate fate of your own child.
What did Patrick Henry say:

"If this be dignity, then give me death"?
How about you?

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on May 03, 2018 at 17:05:19 pm

He never understood the author's difference between natural right and positive right.

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Vladimir Dorta
on May 03, 2018 at 18:04:16 pm

Techera refers to Antigone, who said, "I owe a longer allegiance to the dead than to the living; I must dwell with them forever. You, if you wish, may dishonor the laws which gods have established.” Gods exist in the minds of the believers, and if it's really dust to dust Antigone does not dwell with Polynices.

Antigone received a reprieve from stoning but was put into a cave. She committed suicide, perhaps to avoid starvation.

It seems to me Techera, like Antigone confuses personally constructed compassion with responsibility for a nation's healthcare and independence from papal grandstanding. How long could the pope's wealth hold out if he took on all the world's tragedies?

There's a place for religion in comfort and hope against the unknowns. In taking responsibility for medical decisions, medical doctors have the call on the-objective-truth and popes represent undelivered eternal promises.

Another Greek, Plato, had Agathon inform us, in my paraphrase: in every thought, every word, every act, neither initiate nor tolerate harm. Accepting national health services and then refusing its provisions would seem harmful, and the state ought not tolerate such harm.

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Phillip Beaver
on May 03, 2018 at 18:11:09 pm

BTW: A question:

By what right does the State intervene in parental relations, absent some obvious physical violence?
This is a question that many have asked, and will continue to ask so long as the State usurps parental authority.

Is this arrogation of power based purely upon fantasy?

Yet, it must be admitted that there may be such a basis, at least according to those who seek to, and exercise such authority.

We have read in these pages, a number of comments (nobody.really comes to mind) that assert that so much of what one is, what one becomes, is a matter of chance. Had you not been born white, for example, or rich, etc. you more than likely would have developed somewhat differently. Fair enough!
However, we must then also acknowledge that the chance nature of who one's parents are plays a rather significant role in our being. Educated parents will teach, nurture, etc differently than uneducated parents as an example.

But even the best of parents make mistakes. We all have. and parents will continue to make such mistakes, the severity and import of which may vary. It strikes me that underlying (partially) the Alfie situation is the belief by State functionaries, state experts that "these mistakes must be stopped". One need only look to various Child Protective Services actions to recognize this attitude / practice. There would appear to be a desire / belief in the minds of our social engineers ("It takes a Village, etc) that *expert* opinion, considered interventions and central planning can elimi9nate this parental mistakes.

How else can we have come to a position where parental authority is not only questioned BUT negated? How have we come to empower State mechanisms to exercise such authority? Once again, we observe the fruit of the moderns passion for "reason", science and *expert opinion*. Alfie's case exemplifies this aberration in both the medical and "child rearing" spheres.

It does not require a village, my friends; it mandates only a loving parent or two. That love, that concern is within our nature. Any wonder that discussions of natural law have been avoided by state functionaries?

Jus' sayin'

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Image of gabe
on May 03, 2018 at 20:59:40 pm

A reality more fundamental than the right to life: Healthcare is a scarce resource.

For better or worse, the NHS is in charge of allocating resources for healthcare in Britain, and is not in a position to indulge the families of hopeless cases.

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Juan Manuel Pérez Porrúa Pérez
on May 03, 2018 at 21:48:00 pm

Ahh! another example of *satire* - where would we be without the input of statist satirists?

In case you missed the point of Techera's essay, *that reality* is what he argues against.

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Guttenburgs Press and Brewery
on May 03, 2018 at 21:52:10 pm

"...independence from papal grandstanding"

Leave it to [the] Beaver to bring those damn Papists into it! Yep, compassion, motivated by religious belief is now reduced to *grandstanding."

Goodness, Phil you appear to be one of those who never escaped 1950's religious sensibilities (read: prejudices).

When it comes to philosophizing Beavers, I will turn to one of those old time TV channels and watch the real Beaver.

Leave it, Phil. Now off to Coventry with your furry self.

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on May 03, 2018 at 21:58:41 pm

Boy, I am DUMBER than the average blond. I forgot the main point of the above comments:

Given that so much of our ultimate make-up is a factor of chance AND given the Progressive Left's belief that America promises equality, defined as equality of outcomes, how else may they assure said equality but by eliminating all happenstance from the human / societal equation. Thus, given an accepted fact, given a promised aspirational goal allegedly embedded in the regimes founding documents, Dec of Ind AND given the hubris / arrogance and presumption of those on the right side of history, HOW CAN THEY NOT ATTEMPT TO ELIMINATE CHANCE by assuming control of what was previously considered parental rights.
I would say that this is an example of "in loco parentis" on steroids - BUT there ain;t anything local about it - nor may the Left's goal be deemed local. They are in fact world encompassing!

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on May 04, 2018 at 05:20:26 am

There are multiple examples of the British state wrongly bullying citizens into submission but this is not one of them. Every week cases such as Alfie's are managed by hospitals and parents with cooperation, sympathy and agreement. I have been involved in many such cases in my 40 year career and never had to involve the courts. Of course the public never gets to hear of the cases in which doctors and parents agree but the media love a case where they disagree.The death of a child is of course very sad but sometimes it can be the right outcome at the right time. Where parents and doctors can not agree then the courts have to intervene. The courts were right in this case.

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Richard Spicer
on May 04, 2018 at 16:02:34 pm

"Where parents and doctors can not agree then the courts have to intervene. The courts were right in this case."

This assumes (presumes, actually) that both doctors and courts are properly entitled to overrule the considered judgment of parents.

while one recognizes that most similar cases result in the outcome, and in the manner, that you describe, it is in those cases where parents, rightly or wrongly, decide that they must exercise every option. This is neither unreasonable nor a MATTER FOR EITHER DOCTORS OR COURTS to challenge / litigate.

One can conceivably grant that under single payer regimes, such as NHS, the State has an interest, albeit a purely fiscal one. Yet, no additional expenses were to be incurred by the NHS. As to the argument that Alfie's parents consented to the NHS, one must also consider that under the NHS there is no opt provision. Thus, the problem with State financed medical care.

But let us unpack the statement that "...the courts must intervene." Under what specific grant of authority are the courts empowered to displace parental rights? How is it that doctors, whose expertise is in medical diagnosis / treatment arrogate to themselves the right / capability to decide fundamental questions such as who is to live and who is to die? Granted, doctors may, and ought to provide their best advice - but it must be limited to advice - and NOTHING MORE. It is not within the competence of a doctor to substitute a clinical analysis / decision for the decision of a parent. The parents may be quite misinformed; they may be proceeding under a false hope - but is it not within their right to pursue any hope, be it false or unlikely in an effort to sustain the life of their child.
No, what is contained in the statement I quoted is a misguided belief that a) technical expertise is all that is required to make such decisions, b) that possession of such technical craftmanship is sufficient in itself to enable one to override the parents decision and c) that the State, and its various appendages, by right, has both the power (as clearly it has demonstrated) and the authority to negate the natural rights of both the parent and the child.
Recall that one has a property right in one's own body. Historically, minor children were not competent to properly exercise that right. AND FOR MILLENNIA, the childs right was said to, and legally recognized to reside with the parents NOT THE STATE NOR WITH THE MEDICAL PROFESSION.

So yes, continue to work with suffering parents. do so in a compassionate way - BUT DO NOT PRESUME to be either wise enough to override the considered (and yes emotional) decision of a child's parent.

A dose of humility is hereby ordered for all!

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on May 04, 2018 at 16:19:10 pm

I have abandoned this site out of despair that it will ever live up to its noble title. But I did catch the Alfie comments and must as my last comment (I promise:) reply to Nobody's comment, at least by characterizing both it and the nihilistic essay on "how we die" to which he refers: How morally pathetic, intellectually mundane, philosophically vapid, theologically hollow and characteristically gnome-like! The depressed, depressing work of the likes of Eliot's "The Hollow Men."

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on May 06, 2018 at 08:28:09 am

Euthanasia is not legal in The United Kingdom.


Something is not right at Alder Hey Hospital, which has a history of corruption and scandal.


It defies logic that a Judge could take away the rights of parents who desired to move their child to a hospital that is Pro-Life, and desired to care for their child, when the hospital that child resided in admitted that they no longer desired to provide the essential life-sustaining nutrition, hydration, and medication for Baby Alfie.

“Gross Negligence Manslaughter

This is where the death is a result of a grossly negligent (though otherwise lawful) act or omission on the part of the defendant. The law in respect of this has been clarified in the case of R v Adomako (1994) 3 All ER 79 where a four stage test for gross negligence manslaughter known as the Adomako Test was outlined by the House of Lords:

The test involves the following stages:

a) the existence of a duty of care to the deceased;
b) a breach of that duty of care which;
c) causes (or significantly contributes) to the death of the victim; and
d) the breach should be characterised as gross negligence, and therefore a crime.”

Baby Alfie was not demonstrating any signs that he was in pain. There was no risk greater than death in moving Baby Alfie to a hospital that desired to continue to treat him and sustain his life. Why then, would the hospital continue to hold him hostage when their intention was to deny him the medical care necessary to sustain his life? There is no justification for denying Alfie’s parents the right to move him to another facility or to take him home.

The fact that advances in technology and medicine have helped us to cure some diseases or sustain human life, is no reason to deny essential life-sustaining medical care to Baby Alfie.

God Save The Queen, and may Beautiful Baby Alfie, the Queen's faithful subject, but God's first, rest in The Peace of Christ.

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Nancy D.
on May 07, 2018 at 19:21:47 pm

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Knowledge is Deeply Interwoven and Interconnected
on May 09, 2018 at 15:21:11 pm

Yes, this is the key question in this case. Children cannot make life and death decisions for themselves. To replace fit parents with the state when such decisions are necessary is a huge societal shift in Anglo-American law. It's hard to imagine a rational argument that favors the state here. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2990594

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Louis Hensler

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