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COMMENTARY: Reflecting on some lessons learned from the Alfie Evans saga

Penultimate thoughts on Alfie Evans as his father receives Everton Award

Life Support Has Been Withdrawn From Alfie Evans
Tom Evans speaks to the assembled media outside Alder Hey Hospital
Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images

I’m labeling this penultimate thoughts not because I think I’ll write about this again, but because I can’t be sure I won’t. We first reported on the story of young Alfie Evans last July. At the time, Alder Hey hospital in Liverpool had decided they could not diagnose what was wrong with the boy, and his family was trying to raise funds to move him to another hospital who said they might be able to help. There were no courts involved yet, no international culture debate, just a sick little boy and a family trying to help.

Things have exploded since then. Over the course of ten months, Alfie’s family accused the hospital of trying to execute their son, judge after judge made decisions in the case followed by endless appeals, and the online support of Alfie’s cause doubled again and again and again. An example of this can be seen in the Alfie’s Army Official Facebook group, which ten months ago had barely 40k members and at the time of this writing has 867,536.

The trouble is, in all the fighting back and forth about Alfie, the boy himself got sort of lost in the shuffle. In court cases involving the treatment of a sick person, the longer the court case goes, the worse the patient’s condition is likely to get. Saying that Alfie couldn’t get better became a self fulfilling prophecy, because eventually, Alfie just couldn’t get better.

What’s incredible is that Alfie lasted as long as he did breathing on his own. Experts for the hospital claimed that Alfie would not be able to survive without the ventilator, and yet he did for several days. This appeared to underline the family’s position from the beginning which was that the hospital did not understand their son’s condition.

In the tweet above you see two things. One, you see the Liverpool Echo reporting what we just discussed from the hospital experts, but you see something else as well. The tone of the official Alfie’s Army page. This tone was consistent when his father Thomas Evans spoke to the mediator. It was passionate but combative, desperate to save their son. Suddenly, just before Alfie’s death, Mr. Evans’ tone changed after extensive negotiations with the hospital.

Alfie’s representatives have been insisting for ten months that they appreciate the people at the hospital treating their son. Their battle was with the institution itself, and they openly called for their supporters to behave peacefully. However, what reportedly unfolded outside the gates of the hospital was very different, with what appeared to be a carnival coming to town, and multiple other patients and their families as well as Alder Hey staff enduring vitriolic abuse at times.

There were conflicting reports coming out of Liverpool in the last days of this episode as to whether that was the case, but it is clear that the family came to the conclusion that they were not being accurately represented by all the people who wanted to help their son. What role this played in Evans’ change in tone we’ll probably never know, but the statement you see above certainly represents the public moment where the family accepted the little boy’s fate.

Beyond simple protestors and online warriors, the support for Alfie was truly remarkable. Pope Francis met with Tom and Kate Evans and openly gave his prayers for the family. It was a hospital in Italy that was willing to take Alfie and even sent a medical evacuation helicopter to Liverpool to bring him. Unfortunately, once Alfie Evans went inside Alder Hey hospital, he never came out alive.

Additionally, North West England European Parliament representative Steven Wolfe introduced proposed legislation that he calls “Alfie’s Law” which would seek to expand the rights of parents in situations like Alfie’s.

Everton Football Club got involved earlier as well, and continued that support as they awarded Tom Evans the ‘Chairman’s Blueblood Award’ during the Dixies Awards Ceremony earlier this week. Club chairman Bill Kenwright also very generously helped Alfie’s family financially while players from the club also took photos with Tom and sent Alfie signed memorabilia.

It is incredible that a child who only lived 23 months after birth had such a profound impact. He now becomes a rallying cry in the debate about parental rights in Europe and specifically in the UK. Alfie’s case will come up in political debates for some time.

However, it is unfortunate that the memory of a human life will largely be reduced to this. Alfie’s value as a person extends far beyond any arguments we may have about his situation. Human life is the most precious commodity on our earth and too often when it ends it either becomes part of some massive statistic of what they died from or their name becomes a label for a broader argument.

There are certainly questions to ask when a hospital openly claims that what is in the best interest of one of their patients is for that patient to die. It’s an important discussion, and it’s one that as a society we need to see some progress on. However, the heartache faced by the family was drawn out for over ten months in a very public way, and in the process of that happening the humanity of it all gets lost.

We are so used to shouting and berating people who disagree with us in the public sphere that I think as a global society we’ve forgotten how to be human to one another. When we argue about Alfie or about any other topic we forget that the family involved isn’t just a piece a legislation, they are people who are hurting. When we argue, the person we are arguing with is someone who is bringing to this conversation all their own biases and passions and hurts and histories and you might know 1% of that (even less if you’re on Twitter).

The family of Alfie Evans has relied on their Catholic faith through this trying time. I’m a Protestant, myself, but for me personally, it’s the Gospel of Jesus Christ that gives me hope in tragedies like this. I don’t know what you believe and I’m not trying to tell you what to believe, that’s not the point of Royal Blue Mersey. We’re a football/soccer blog and we’re only writing about this topic because Tom and Kate Evans have a relationship with our club. But whatever your ideological persuasion, I hope that your source of hope is one that also helps you remember our responsibility as people to be considerate an loving to those who are hurting. Don’t let tragic situations be just another argument.

Alfie Evans Dies Five Days After Life Support Is Withdrawn
Balloons are released in memory of Alfie Evans outside Alder Hey Hospital
Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Remember Alfie Evans today. Remember him not by winning an argument online but by hugging your children, by loving your neighbor, by being thankful for the family and loved ones you have and by cherishing the time you have with them.

I’ve been to two funerals this week, I’ve preached at three others in the last few months, my day job takes me into hospitals where I get daily reminders of how fleeting life can be, and Alfie’s story is just one part of it. Alfie was courageous in his fight and it’s been an absolute privilege to write about him. The lasting impact of his life, to me, will be primarily human and spiritual, not political. I can’t help but feel that any other response would undermine the life he lived.

Disclaimer: The thoughts here are my own. I reported the facts of the case as accurately as I know them, but the opinions here are mine and do not necessarily represent Vox Media, SB Nation, or Royal Blue Mersey.