A couple of weeks ago, I was suddenly bombarded with demands that I make a “statement” about the case of Alfie Evans. Here’s what I posted, at the time, on the NPLM public page:
The New Pro Life Movement does not have a statement on Alfie Evans.
Nor do we have to have a statement.
If it isn’t clear to you why, hang on – I’ll explain in a minute.
But first, I do want to put it out there that we have been discussing the issue at length, among ourselves, and in private, partially because there’s something unseemly about publicly hashing out the tragic and convoluted details of a parent’s worst nightmare – but also, because too much inaccurate information was circulating, and we wanted to make sure we were attentive to the facts, to the ethics, to the medical science. We wanted to make sure we were focused on the reality of the situation, and not turning it into a propaganda flag or purity test.
Because, yes, people are now using “what do you think about Alfie Evans?” as a purity test. As though what’s really important here is a “gotcha” moment for anyone who doesn’t parrot the popular lines.
If we have any statement to make, it’s that what is important here is the life, value, and dignity of this child, and the respect due to the parents who love him.
We do not have a statement on “what should be done.” We can’t, because we’re not there. I do know that if my child were in such a situation, I would want to do anything in my power to save him. But I also know that if I were a medical professional, I would be obligated to advise whatever course of action would be objectively best for the patient.
And this is why, from an ethical standpoint, our organization can’t have a statement. This is not a case where there is a clear-cut answer to “what is objectively best for this child.” We can say, about an unborn child, that taking its life would be an objective evil. We can say, about an immigrant child, that deportation would be an objective evil. It is much harder to determine, when it comes to end-of-life issues, at what point removing life-support systems is an act of violence against life, or simply an acceptance of death as a natural end that comes to all.
We have asserted repeatedly that violence against life is always objectively evil, but we must be wary about sustaining such a terror of death as to turn towards unnatural and painful ends to prevent it. In the Christian tradition, we even have the idea of a “good death” – which seems oxymoronic, but stands as a reminder that death is not the ultimate evil.
We believe that all available services must always be offered to protect the life and health of any human, however small or poor or vulnerable. But we also recognize that at some point, the only services that can really help are palliative. If I were a physician attending to little Alfie Evans, I might be able to pronounce on which of these cases this is. But I’m not, so I won’t.
There is also the issue of parental rights. Again, this could go two ways. Parents have a right to decide what is best for their children, but this right is limited by the right of the child to be protected from dangerous decisions. It is possible that the physicians are wrong in saying that it would be traumatic and painful for the baby to be flown to Italy. It is also possible that they are right, and speaking in the child’s best interest.
I’m not there. I can’t say. It would be irresponsible for me to do so, and it would be disgusting for me to use this painful and tragic situation as a purity test on others. It might be wise, later on, when heads are clearer, to try to parse out these end-of-life questions more closely. But right now the only statement I have to make is that I am praying for Alfie Evans, for his parents, and for everyone involved in making decisions on this difficult case.
Angry and vicious responses to this statement intrigued me, because for the most part they came from the same people who have repeatedly argued that health care is not a right, and who, for all their worries about “parental rights,” have clearly been entirely at ease with anti-immigration measures that entail separating children from their parents.
I know that some who argue that the Evans family should have been able to move Alfie to the Italian hospital were arguing in good faith and from a genuinely pro-life perspective.
Others, however, seem willing to believe any number of lies simply in order to discredit socialized medicine. They see the NHS as a shadowy and sinister cabal bent on killing babies.
I would like to remind these people of what probably would have happened if Alfie had been an American baby.
44 million Americans are uninsured right now. My children and I are among these. Being uninsured means that when a child is sick, you have to make a gamble. Is it dire enough to justify a visit to the ER, knowing you’re going to be hit with bills that will plunge you even deeper in debt? Can you wait it out, and see? Are you a “bad parent” because you’re worrying about finances while anxiously taking your child’s temperature or making her jump up and down to see whether it’s gas pain or appendicitis?
If you do decide to go the ER route, yes, they will see you – but often, what you get is only the most basic care, when there’s no insurance coverage. And then you get a huge whopping bill. Access to rare or experimental treatments is out of the question. This is true even for many who do have insurance, because often some treatments simply aren’t covered, or the co-pay is so high that people in a tight spot end up doing the gambling thing again. Those moments of lost time are crucial, sometimes: the difference between life and death.
If Alfie had been an American child, it is unlikely that he would have had access to round-the-clock, high-quality care. The conflict between parental rights and hospital rights would not even have come up, if the parents lacked the medical coverage or finances to keep their child alive that long in the first place. Alfie might very well have died months ago, simply because of lack of coverage or finances.
All over America, people are running GoFundMe campaigns simply to pay their medical bills. Those who don’t raise the money simply can’t afford their medicines or treatments. What happens then? Well, some of them die.
And what if you’re pregnant and uninsured? Well, many women in this situation end up choosing abortion, because the time off work plus the medical expenses could be enough to plunge them below the poverty line, and into dire financial straits.
Arguments against socialized medicine go something like this: “if the government is giving you your health care, they can decide to withhold it.”
But since those who make this argument seem to be just fine with people not getting health care in the first place, the subtext is “it’s better for people to die for lack of services, than for them to have access to services that could save them, but which in a few rare cases could be withdrawn.” That’s like saying “it’s better for people to starve than to depend on an organization that could feed them, since the organization might decide not to.”
Many who were arguing against the British hospitals and courts were doing so because they disagreed with their decisions. This I can respect. Others, though – especially those spreading gross and flagrant lies about the hospital administering lethal injections, and just wanting to kill babies – are clearly either marvelously stupid, or less interested in defense of life than in opposing a system of health care which, if implemented in the United States, could actually lead to the defense of many lives, both born and unborn.
image credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intensive_care_unit