Europes Catholic powerhouses are lining up to offer help to Alfie Evans, a two-year-old British boy who has been taken off life support by order of a court.
The case of the seriously ill boy in Liverpool has exposed sharp fault lines in Europes approach to terminal conditions, especially after a British court ruled it is in the childs interests to be taken off the life support machine and be allowed to die, against the parents wishes.
The Vatican and the Italian and Polish governments have rallied around the Evans family, with Pope Francis and the Italian authorities standing ready to bring him to the Bambino Gesù childrens hospital in Rome for further care and investigations. A U.K. court, however, rejected a last-ditch appeal by Evans parents to take him to Rome, ruling that it is not in the boys best interests, as he is in the middle of an end-of-life treatment.
The pope asked that “the suffering of his parents may be heard and that their desire to seek new forms of treatment may be granted.”
Tom Evans, the boys father, told British media on Thursday that Alfie was largely breathing on his own after being taken off a ventilator on Tuesday and accused the doctors treating him at the Alder Hey hospital in Liverpool of misdiagnosing him. He now wants to take the boy home “to sustain his life.” The hospital insists that everything it is doing is “in the best interests of the child.”
Some of the strongest criticism against the U.K. court ruling has come from Poland, which is led by the conservative Law and Justice party.
“This case is yet another proof that the civilization of death is starting to win,” said former Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło in a TV interview on Thursday. “If Europe doesnt go back to its roots and values, there will probably be more and more of such cases,” she said. Szydło called on the European Commission and European Council President — a fellow Pole — Donald Tusk to speak out about the case. Szydło is now the deputy prime minister, mostly dealing with social affairs.
Polish President Andrzej Duda said Evans must be saved in a tweet in English on Wednesday. “His brave little body has been stronger than death,” he wrote.
Tom Evans said the Polish support has been “amazing.”
While Polish politicians have seized on Alfies case, the ruling Law and Justice party faces a public relations crisis at home, where families caring for severely handicapped children have occupied parts of the Polish parliament building to lobby for greater government financial support.
Plane to Italy on standby
The Italian government has gone even further than the Poles by deciding to give Alfie Evans Italian citizenship to make it easier for him to be transferred to the Bambino Gesù hospital, which has ties to the Vatican. Foreign Affairs Minister Angelino Alfano discussed the case with his British counterpart Boris Johnson in a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday, telling him that he did not believe that “an action taken for purely humanitarian reasons could be harmful.”
Tom Evans lawyer told the court on Wednesday that an Italian military air ambulance was on standby at the request of the pope to take Alfie Evans to Rome if the court allowed, Sky News reported.
The Italian hospital has been following the case since last summer and representatives went to see the boy in Liverpool at the familys request, one hospital spokesperson said. Alfie Evans is suffering from a rare neurodegenerative disease combined with epilepsy, he said. The disease damages the brain progressively, but the Bambino Gesù hospital has patients with similar conditions to Alfie, the spokesperson added.
The case is the second in a year of a terminally ill child whose parents were not allowed by the U.K. court to seek treatment elsewhere. Charlie Gard died last year just before his first birthday after the court decided it was not in his best interest to be taken to the U.S. for an experimental treatment. The battle to keep Gard alive attracted the popes attention and also saw a tweet of support from U.S. President Donald Trump.
This time, Alfie Evans case caught the eye of former U.S. presidential hopeful and Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz. “It is a sad irony that while the people of the UK are busy celebrating a royal birth, its government is brushing off a commoners right to life,” he tweeted on Wednesday. Cruz took the opportunity to criticize the publicly funded British health care system, called “socialized medicine” by Americans. “It is a grim reminder that systems of socialized medicine like the National Health Service (NHS) vest the state with power over human lives, transforming citizens into subjects,” he wrote.
Some Twitter users were quick to point out in response that at least Evans parents wont have to worry about the costs of keeping him in the hospital since December 2016, which wouldnt have been the case if he was in the U.S.
Protests in support of Evans continued care were planned for Thursday afternoon in front of Buckingham Palace in London and the U.K. Embassy in Brussels.