20 April 2018, The Tablet

Parents of Alfie Evans lose final appeal

Tom Evans and Kate James have been at the centre of a life-support treatment battle for their son Alfie Evans

Parents of Alfie Evans lose final appeal

The parents of gravely ill toddler Alfie Evans have lost their attempt to persuade the Supreme Court to let them appeal an order that the boy's life support be turned off.

Lady Hale, Lord Kerr and Lord Wilson in the Supreme Court ruled in their court order today that Alfie, 23 months, being treated at Alder Hey hospital in Liverpool, has no hope of ever getting better and that his parents Tom Evans and Kate James "have to face the facts".

Acknowledging it is a "desperately sad case", they say that while Alfie looks like a normal baby, the unanimous opinion of the doctors who have examined him and the scans of his brain is that almost all of his brain has been destroyed. 

"No-one knows why. But that it has happened and is continuing to happen cannot be denied. It means that Alfie cannot breathe, ore eat, or drink without sophisticated medical treatment. It also means that there is no hope of his ever getting better."

The parents made an application to appeal for a writ of habeas corpus, that requires a person having custody of the relevant party either to produce the body or to give good legal reason why the body should not be produced or released.  

The Supreme Court said the parents "do not have the right to use the writ of habeas corpus to acquire the custody of the child if this will not be in his best interests".

The parents' application was on the basis that Alfie was being deprived of his liberty contrary to article 5 of the European Convention of Human Rights. But the judges said: "A person who is unable to move because of the measures which are being taken in intensive care to keep him alive is not deprived of his liberty within the meaning of article 5."

They continued: "It has been conclusively determined that it is not in Alfie's best interests, not only to stay in Alder Hey hospital being treated as he currently is, but also to travel abroad for the same purpose. It is not lawful, therefore, to continue to detain him, whether in Alder Hey or elsewhere, for that purpose. The release to which he is entitled, therefore, is release from the imposition of treatment which is not in his best interests."

They conclude that there is no reason for further delay. "There will be no further stay of the Court of Appeal's order. The hospital must be free to do what has been determined to be in Alfie's best interests. That is the law in this country. No application to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg can or should change that."

Alder Hey hospital said in a statement:  "Today the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the High Court and the Court of Appeal confirming that 'It has been conclusively determined that it is not in Alfie’s best interests to continue to receive treatment or to travel abroad for treatment.' The hospital said: "Alfie’s parents have done everything in their power to do what they think is best for him even though that is contrary to the views of the doctors.  That has inevitably prolonged the period over which he has been given treatment that was determined in February not to be in his best interests." The hospital continued: "We understand that this decision is very distressing for Alfie’s family at this very difficult time." 

Earlier this week, the Catholic Bishops’ of England and Wales issued a statement on the case. 

They said: "Our hearts go out to the parents of Alfie Evans and our prayers are for him and with them as they try to do all they can to care for their son. We affirm our conviction that all those who are and have been taking the agonising decisions regarding the care of Alfie Evans act with integrity and for Alfie’s good as they see it. The professionalism and care for severely ill children shown at Alder Hey Hospital is to be recognised and affirmed."
The bishops also defended the hospital, saying that the "public criticism" of their work is "unfounded as our chaplaincy care for the staff, and indeed offered to the family, has been consistently provided."
Referring to an offer from the Vatican's Bambino Gesu to care for Alfie Evans, the bishops said that in cases where "crucial decisions in conflicts of opinion have to be taken" it is up to the hospital to give British courts the medical reasons for an exception to be made. 
The statement concluded: "With the Holy Father, we pray that, with love and realism, everything will be done to accompany Alfie and his parents in their deep suffering."
The statement followed a meeting between Pope Francis and Thomas Evans on Wednesday morning at the Casa Santa Marta residence in the Vatican. Francis later mentioned Alfie during his weekly general audience gathering in St Peter's Square, saying: "The only master over life is God."
Alfie is suffering from a rare, undiagnosed neurological condition and has been in hospital since December 2016.
Church teaching says that no-one should be deprived of the "ordinary means" to preserve life such as food, water and medical care, although the catechism points out that "Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate."
Pic: File photo dated 19/12/17 of Tom Evans and Kate James, who have been at the centre of a life-support treatment battle for their son Alfie Evans and have lost the latest round of their legal fight after failing to persuade Supreme Court justices to consider their case for a second time. Picture by: Philip Toscano/PA Wire/PA Images

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