British judge allows toddler's life support switched off, despite parents' wishes

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Alfie Evans. Photo courtesy of Alfie's Army Facebook.

A British court ruled Tuesday that physicians can stop providing life support, against his parents' wishes, to Alfie Evans, a 21-month old boy who has an unknown neurological degenerative condition.
Evans is in a “semi-vegetative state” and on life support at Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, where doctors have said further efforts are futile and went to court to argue that continuing treatment, as his parents wish, is not in Evans' best interest.

Justice Anthony Hayden of the High Court ruled Feb. 20 that “Alfie's need now is for good quality palliative care … He requires peace, quiet, and stability, so that he may conclude his life as he has lived it.”

“I am satisfied that continued ventilatory support is no longer in Alfie’s interests. This decision I appreciate will be devastating news to Alfie’s parents. I hope they will take time to read this judgement again.”

Alder Hey Children's Hospital has said it always tries to agree with patients on plans for care: “Our aim is always to try and reach an agreement with parents about the most appropriate care plan for their child. Unfortunately there are sometimes rare situations such as this where agreement cannot be reached and the treating team believe that continued active treatment is not in a child's best interests.”

The hospital may withdraw Evans' ventilation on Friday.

Alfie's parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, are considering appealing the decision.

His doctors have described his condition as untreatable, but his parents are requesting their son’s transfer to the Vatican-linked Bambino Gesu Pediatric Hospital in Rome for further diagnosis and possible treatment.

Evans' case echoes that of Charlie Gard, a terminally ill English infant who died in July 2017 after being taken off life support against his parents' wishes. Gard was 11 months old, and had been at the center of a months-long legal debate regarding parental rights and human life.

Doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital treating Gard also went to court to take him off of life support, saying his parent's decision to maintain treatment was not in his interest.

Though Gard's parents raised more than $1.6 million for his treatment and had offers from hospitals in Europe and the US to give him experimental treatments, a High Court judge ordered that he be taken off life support.

Discussing Gard's situation with CNA in June 2017, Dr. Melissa Moschella, a Catholic University of America philosophy professor, said: “It seems to me completely wrongheaded that the state should be stepping in here when the decision that the parents are making is really aimed at the best interests of the child.”

“It’s not crazy, it’s not abusive, it’s not neglectful. It’s the decision of parents who want to, however they can, to give their very sick child a chance for life.”

She said such a decision “should be completely within the prerogative of the parent,” citing the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. According to Moschella, that declaration “clearly indicates that the parents, not the state will have primarily responsibility.”

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