I would do anything for my kids and grandkids. I would move heaven and earth to see they received the care they need. You probably feel the same. That’s why the story of young Alfie Evans breaks my heart and I continue to cry just writing about him.
Alfie, the 23-month-old British boy, died last Saturday morning at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, England, five days after his life support was removed on orders from the United Kingdom’s High Court. There’s no way around it … put simply, the government of the United Kingdom decided he must die—against the wishes and rights of his parents, against the pleas of the Vatican, the governments of both Italy and Poland, and countless others around the world. Together with the death of toddler Charlie Gard last year, whom British authorities would not allow to be taken to the United States for an experimental treatment, Evans’ death seems to confirm British policy in such matters: children belong to the state, and when the state decides that they should die, they will die.
But how could this happen? Could it happen here? The answer is it does and it has.
In 2005, medical experts and child welfare bureau in the state of Massachusetts determined 11-year-old Haleigh Poutre “virtually brain-dead,” in a “persistent vegetative state,” and not worth saving after she suffered such brutal beatings and sexual abuse by her stepfather that she was left in a coma. Doctors at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield and agents at the Massachusetts Department of Social Services won a court order to remove Haleigh’s ventilator and feeding tube. They formulated a “treatment” schedule to starve her of nourishment and oxygen until she succumbed to “death with dignity.”
But Haleigh survived. As state officials prepared to remove Haleigh’s life support, the impossible happened: She emerged from the vegetative state and began breathing on her own and picked up toys on command.
So how does a government reach a point where it essentially assumes control of a child from a loving, functioning family, remove the child off life support, deny him care as he unexpectedly fights to stay alive, and then block attempts by another government to rescue him and provide state-of-the-art care free of charge?
In Britain, rather than defending a right to life, the state has decided to define which lives are worth living. Rather than protecting the rights of the child only when the parents have manifestly failed, the state has decided that it is the greater, better parent.
Regent University family law professor Lynne Marie Kohm looks to the United Nations for the answer. “This is about the lethal combination of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and state universal health care,” Kohm reports. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is a United Nations human rights treaty that gives states legal authority to make decisions about a child’s welfare, which means that the child’s rights are protected by the state, not by the parents.
Because Britain signed the CRC in 1991, Alfie’s parents could not intervene for their son’s best interests. This same convention has no bearing in the United States because the U.S. didn’t sign onto the CRC like the UK and 192 other nations. U.S. courts are charged with allowing parents to direct the upbringing of their children and are bound by law to do what’s in the best interest of those children. This doesn’t mean the U.S. will always follow this path.
There’s another factor, too — the failure of universal health care. “In Britain, the hospital has been paying the cost of taking care of Alfie his whole life and that’s been a while,” Kohm reports. “This is state health care. Universal state health care…So, when the state is in charge, it’s going to decide who gets to continue to live when resources are limited.”
The UK court allowed Alfie to be removed from oxygen, essentially starving him wherein he began losing his sight and his organs began shutting down. Alfie survived longer than the hospital estimated. There is nothing dignified about Alfie’s death.
Alfie, Charlie, and Haleigh matter because all lives matter. Parents’ rights are human rights. If we don’t value all human life we will yield to the culture of death and no lives are safe. Let me know what you think.
“There is no friendship, no love, like that of the parent for the child.” (Henry Ward Beecher)