The father of terminally ill toddler Alfie Evans said Thursday that he plans to meet doctors to discuss taking his son home from a British hospital.
Pope Francis has been praying for the boy, and the Italian government granted the child Italian citizenship and lined up a transportation plan that could swiftly bring the sick 23-month-old boy to a Vatican hospital. But Alfie’s doctors say he cannot be healed and shouldn’t make the trip at all.
On Tuesday, a British judge sided with the doctors, saying that the family cannot accept the offer to take Alfie to the Vatican for treatment. An appeals court swiftly re-heard the case and upheld the previous day’s ruling, saying on Wednesday that Alfie cannot leave the country. His father has appealed to Pope Francis to travel to Liverpool to see the situation, according to an Italian news agency.
The little boy’s case has become a subject of fierce concern for some Catholic and other Christian activists, who have protested outside the hospital in Liverpool where the boy is being treated. Calling themselves “Alfie’s Army,” the protesters say that the British doctors’ decision on Monday to remove Alfie from life support violates the sanctity of life as well as his parents’ wishes to continue seeking treatment to keep him alive.
Doctors say it is difficult to estimate how long the boy will live without life support, but they believe there is no chance he will get better. The case has drawn a surge of conservative media and activists. British protesters have clashed with police as they tried to force their way into the hospital. The local police force yesterday issued a warning after staff were allegedly harassed and said social media posts were being monitored.
“It’s very disappointing,” said Andrea Minichiello Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Center, which is representing the Evans family. As she left the hearing Tuesday at which Justice Anthony Hayden denied the family’s request to take Alfie to Italy, Williams said by phone: “What we have here, essentially, is a situation where an air ambulance is on standby waiting to take the child and look after him. He is being denied that chance. His parents are being denied that chance. It seems inconceivable that there is no way to make that happen.”
Alfie, who is now 23 months old, entered the hospital in December 2016 due to a chest infection that caused chronic seizures, eventually leaving him reliant on a ventilator, according to the Vatican. He has not been definitively diagnosed, but his doctors say he suffers from a rare and incurable degenerative neurological condition. Some experts believe the toddler has Mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome, according to the International Business Times.
His doctors at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital concluded that Alfie should be removed from life support. His parents, Tom Evans, 21, and Kate James, 20, disagreed, leading to a fight between the parents and doctors over the best interests of the child, which has worked its way through the British court system.
Tom Evans said on Good Morning Britain that nurses had been shocked by Alfie’s condition, saying they haven’t seen a problem.
This photo, taken April 5 and released by protesters demonstrating for Alfie’s treatment, shows Alfie at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool. (Action4ALife/AFP)In a statement, the medical association representing Alfie’s doctors called his case “heartbreaking for his parents and emotionally challenging for the doctors and nurses involved in treating and caring for him.” They said that they wouldn’t discuss confidential details about Alfie’s medical condition but that British doctors’ guidelines call for ending treatment if the treatment is either unlikely to extend the child’s life “much longer” or might prolong life “but will cause the child unacceptable pain and suffering.”
Williams argued that choice shouldn’t rest with the doctors and that the Evans family should have the right to seek a second opinion at the Vatican’s Bambino Gesu children’s hospital, which has indicated its willingness to admit Alfie. “The judge says the parents aren’t facing up to the reality: He is very sick, he’s not going to get better and that treatment in this case is not going to cure him. That’s what the judge says. The point is that the parents should be free,” Williams said. “The parents can’t take a child to the hospital and then not be allowed to access another option for treatment.”
Williams said that the judge asked about other options for palliative care for Alfie at Alder Hey or at his home, and the hospital agreed to return to the court with more information.
Alfie’s case came to the attention of Pope Francis as the case moved through the court system. At the beginning of the month, Francis tweeted about the boy, drawing significant attention to his case and prompting comparisons to Charlie Gard, another British baby who died last year despite his parents’ fight — with the expressed support of Pope Francis and President Trump — to keep him on life support.
Francis has spoken repeatedly about Alfie. “Let us pray that every sick person might always be respected in their dignity and cared for in a manner adapted to their condition, with the concordant input of their families and loved ones, of the doctors and of other health care workers, with great respect for life,” he said in his Sunday remarks April 15, after mentioning “little Alfie Evans.”
Three days later, Francis again brought up Alfie, this time in his Wednesday general audience. “The only author of life, from its beginning to its natural end, is God,” he said. “It is our duty to do all that is possible to safeguard life.”
That day, Alfie’s father met privately with the pope at the Vatican.
The boy’s parents were not in court Tuesday and Wednesday; Williams said they wanted to be at the hospital, at their son’s side.
This story includes reporting from the Associated Press. It has been updated several times with new updates on the case.