A Milan hospital offers to give a second opinion on toddler with undiagnosed brain disease as UK hospital tries again to turn off his life support, contrary to his parent’s wishes.
By Edward Pentin, Apr. 6, 2018
A lawyer representing 23-month old Alfie Evans has sent a letter to the hospital caring for the toddler to say that a hospital in Milan is willing to offer a second medical opinion, and they expect the Vatican’s Bambino Gesù hospital in Rome to do the same in the next few hours.
“We have just sent Alder Hey [hospital in Liverpool] and their legal team a letter stating the availability of the Carlo Besta Neurologic Institute of Milan to carry out a second medical opinion for Alfie Evans,” said Filippo Martini, secretary at Giuristi per la Vita, on Friday morning.
“We are now waiting and hoping for a positive response,” he added. “Within the next few hours we expect to receive the same availability from Bambino Gesù hospital in Rome.”
The parents of little Alfie, Tom Evans and Kate James, are battling with the Alder Hey hospital in Liverpool and English courts to continue to keep him on life support.
In a dispute reminiscent of the Charlie Gard case last year, doctors say there is nothing they can do for the 23-month-old who has an undiagnosed degenerative brain disease, but his parents have been fighting to keep him on a ventilator.
Despite their parent’s wishes, High Court judge, Justice Anthony Hayden, ruled in February that the hospital can remove Alfie’s life support. A later appeal to the European Court of Human Rights also failed.
In his report, Justice Hayden partly justified his decision by quoting from a message Pope Francis delivered last November at a Vatican meeting hosted by the Pontifical Academy for Life.
Justice Hayden argued that “overzealous treatment” can be withdrawn, even though life support — ventilation, hydration and nutrition — are not justified as overzealous or aggressive treatment in the Catechism.
A ventilator can only be withdrawn if such care is considered disproportionate — for example, if the patient is unable to metabolize food and water. The parents insist that it is not the case with Alfie and that their son has been getting “stronger and more responsive” in recent weeks.
Alfie has been “stretching, coughing, swallowing, making breathes on his own, yawning, sucking his dummy” and reacting to being tickled, according to a post on the Alfie’s Army Instagram page yesterday.
But on Thursday, the Alder Hey hospital treating Alfie confirmed it had returned to court for “guidance” on when to switch off the toddler’s life support.
Tom Evans accused Alder Hey of going “behind the family’s back” to apply for his life support to be turned off as soon as Friday.
He said the family had brought “fresh evidence and fresh material including a second opinion from another air ambulance company agreeing that Alfie is fit to fly (for pioneering treatment in Italy) and if Alder Hey were to release with them they would fly Alfie.”
But just a few hours after the meeting with hospital staff at 12.30pm, he said the hospital applied to the court to remove Alfie’s life support “as soon as tomorrow.”
In a statement, the health service trust running the hospital said “at no point has a date for withdrawal of treatment for Alfie been agreed with his family.”
But it reiterated that the “courts have ruled that Alfie’s condition is irreversible and untreatable and that continued active treatment is not in his best interests.
“We always aim to reach agreement with parents about the most appropriate palliative care plan for their child but sadly, in this case, we have not been able to do this.
“Consequently we must return to the High Court, as we are legally required to do, for guidance about a date on which to withdraw treatment from Alfie.”
The statement ended by asking for the privacy of Alfie’s family to be respected, and that it would not be making further comment “about Alfie or his treatment to any members of the public.”
Observers say Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, made matters worse for Alfie and his parents when he appeared to side with Justice Hayden’s decision.
In a March interview with the Italian daily Tempi, Archbishop Paglia said the decision to remove the ventilator would be an interruption of “overzealous treatment” and that therefore the ruling was not at odds with the teaching of the Church.
The prelate refused to respond to email requests from LifeSite News for clarification, and when their Rome correspondent Diane Montagna later confronted him in person about the interview in Rome, he walked away and delegated the matter to his secretary. The secretary followed up via email to say the archbishop had nothing more to add.
Soon afterwards the Tempi interview was taken down. It had prompted the mother of a 9-year-old boy suffering from a severe disability issuing the academy president with a “filial correction.” Emanuele Campostrini said she was “outraged” by Archbishop Paglia’s comments, adding that he “cannot and should not” be head of the academy.
Alfie’s case has also exposed weaknesses in the Pope’s speech of last November which, for the second time, has been used by pro-life opponents to advance their positions.
As well as being instrumentalized by Justice Hayden, proponents of a law passed in Italy last December allowing adults to decide in living wills to refuse end-of-life medical treatment also used the speech to argue that the Pope was offering an “open door” to such euthanasia.
Pope Francis tweeted on April 4 it was his “sincere hope that everything necessary may be done in order to continue compassionately accompanying little Alfie Evans, and that the deep suffering of his parents may be heard.”
He added he was “praying for Alfie, his family and for all who are involved.”