The Sacredness of All Human Life
With the case of Alfie Evans being so prominent in last week’s news, and the many issues involved in it, I want to set out Catholic teaching on some of them because it is important we understand them.
At times doctors have to make very difficult decisions about what we call ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary’ care when a person is dying. ‘Ordinary means’, such as food and water when they are of benefit to the patient are obligatory, whereas ‘extraordinary means’ such as machines which enable the heart and lungs to function are optional. But according to Catholic teaching, it is never permissible to withdraw the ‘ordinary’ means, since this would mean enforcing an unnatural death as opposed to allowing a natural one, and this is euthanasia. Now in the case of Alfie, he continued to live for several days after breathing assistance had been removed. If news reports are to be believed, food and hydration were also withdrawn, and if this is the case, Catholic teaching was violated.
The other issue here is the parent’s right to choose life for their child. An offer from Italy was made to take Alfie to a hospital in Rome to receive further treatment in the hope that new possibilities might be opened up, but a High Court ruling prevented this from happening. But a child has the fundamental human right to life and to be nurtured in such a way that he/she can develop him/herself as fully as possible, physically, intellectually, spiritually. When parents fight to uphold this fundamental right of their child, they have the right to be fully supported by society, doctors and judges. But in this case, the right of Alfie’s parents to do what they thought was right for him was taken away from them, and this is the real issue here. Pope Francis supported the parents’ wish to seek further treatment for their son but even his voice went unheard. Charles Camosy at ‘First Things’ wrote terrifyingly that, “The UK has now established the clear and frightening precedent that parents who have a different understanding of what kinds of lives are worth living may have their children taken from them and left to die—in the children’s own best interests.” Care for the terminally ill can be expensive, so one cannot help wonder how long it might be before the euthanasia campaigners will want to broaden the categories to include the disabled and the elderly.
However, we can be certain that Alfie, having been baptised without a spot on his soul, is now in Heaven. Perhaps we should pray to him for the defence of all human life.
Fr Paul Gillham IC