Alfie Evans and the Consensus of ‘Experts’

Messages are displayed in Britain in tribute of Alfie Evans.
Omar Marques / SOPA Images/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

Alfie Evans and the Consensus of ‘Experts’

What happens when government institutions start believing they are infallible

At a hospital in London last Monday, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge welcomed their third child into the world—a baby boy. That same day, doctors in a Liverpool hospital turned off the life support machine for 23-month-old Alfie Evans.

Alfie had suffered from an undiagnosed brain condition that left him in a semivegetative state. He had been on life support for more than a year. However, a panel of doctors decided earlier this year to take little Alfie off life support. They believed it was only prolonging the inevitable. The doctors told Alfie’s parents that he would die within minutes—he would not be able to survive on his own.

Once they took Alfie off life support, one hour passed—then two, then four, then 24—and Alfie was still alive.

Alfie’s parents were vehemently opposed to the doctors taking their young son off life support. They wanted to try some experimental treatments that were available in Italy. Tom Evans, Alfie’s father, traveled to Italy and met with the pope, who joined the growing movement in favor of bringing Alfie to Italy. Italy even granted Alfie honorary Italian citizenship.

However, the British courts refused to let him go. They denied the parents’ repeated appeals. They even refused to let the parents take Alfie home.

For the first six hours that Alfie was breathing on his own, the doctors didn’t give him any water. They refused to give him antibiotics for a chest infection he had, or any food to keep him alive. But against all odds, Alfie kept breathing.

He survived until the early hours of the morning last Saturday, when he tragically died in the hospital while in the arms of his parents.

British mep Steven Woolfe said during a radio interview last week, “There is a determination, I think, to kill that child and to make sure that he doesn’t get across to Italy.”

That’s a pretty serious charge. But this case does raise a lot of questions. Why was it assumed that the doctors were the ones who should make the final decision? And when Alfie continued to live for days after they took him off life support, why didn’t they make any effort to help him keep living? Even though they had already been proved wrong by the fact that Alfie kept breathing, they never questioned their decision to take him off life support.

Woolfe said in a Sky News interview last week, “What I’ve found in my time looking at this case and [previous cases] is that we have an institutional arrogance—a belief that [the doctors] can never do anything wrong. And as a consequence of that, they are willing to make the decision to end life, notwithstanding the fact that there are alternative options out there.”

In an interview with Dr. Hilary Jones on Good Morning Britain last week, Piers Morgan said that doctors sometimes get it wrong and that “miracles do happen” with patients. Jones scoffed at the prospect of miracles ever happening. “They don’t happen!” he shot back. He said doctors might occasionally get it wrong. “But when you look at a whole consensus of doctors, all of whom are very experienced, all of whom are compassionate and caring—they’ve got the scans, they’ve got the records, they can see what’s happening—they’re very, very rarely wrong” (emphasis added throughout).

In other words, the “consensus” is practically infallible and knows exactly what kind of care is or is not compassionate. And the courts back the “consensus.” You can’t leave the country for alternative care—even if the receiving country covers the costs. You can’t even take your dying baby home.

There was a point last week that the “consensus” considered letting Alfie return home with his parents for his final days. But they said the parents first needed to change their attitude! They know what is compassionate and caring for little Alfie. And they know what’s wrong with the parents’ attitude.

As Red State pointed out, this is the dark side of a state-run, single-payer health-care system. In the National Health Service (nhs), the bottom line is “measured in dollars rather than lives.” The people who submit to it are “agreeing to let the government treat their lives as algorithms.” The article explained the probable reasoning behind the decision to take Alfie off life support:

The nhs simply cannot afford the extremely expensive prospect of keeping alive a little boy who most likely will not live much longer due to an incurable condition. Alfie’s chances of any meaningful recovery were slim to none. It isn’t outside the boundaries of reason that the government tasked with his treatment would deem it simply not worth the effort expended.

The incomprehensible part, as Red State pointed out, is that the British government wouldn’t let the parents take Alfie to Italy. It seems like it would have been a win-win for everyone. But what it boils down to is control. The “consensus” thought they were better guardians of this child’s interests than his parents. What if they had allowed Alfie to go to Italy—and what if the experimental treatment had worked? It would have been a huge embarrassment to the nhs and the British government. They would have had to admit that they were wrong.

Red State continued, “For some bizarre reason, a nation that boasts figures like Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, a tiny island nation that was once so powerful and broad it was said that the sun never set on the British Empire, … for some inexplicable reason that nation has chosen to hang its pride and joy on socialized medicine.”

At Power Line, writer Scott Johnson condensed the salient points of the issue with Britain’s worship of its nhs system:

We have turned over vast swaths of our lives to the control of experts.

That’s the way the left wants it.

This is what socialism and the administrative state are all about.

The “knowledge” of “experts” is frequently a pretense to assert control over our lives.

Individual rights lose their meaning under socialism and the administrative state.

Abuse of the right to life is “part and parcel of a health system dominated by the state rather than the individual or the family” (as James Freeman puts it).

With the loss of the right to life and property goes the right to liberty.

It is this kind of institutional arrogance that is behind the erosion of freedom and liberty in our nations today. Britain has a rich, glorious history of reinforcing the pillars of liberty. But today, the United Kingdom—and the United States—are gradually sacrificing their freedoms before the altar of state-sponsored institutions that are packed full of “experts” who are rarely, if ever, wrong.

To understand the danger behind this institutional arrogance, please read my father’s booklet No Freedom Without Law.