One can only feel compassion and sympathy for the parents of Baby Alfie, who have suffered months of distress and torment caused by the huge deterioration in their little boy's well being and deteriorating health, leading it is reported, to his death early this morning.
The family's suffering became the subject of world wide human interest, culminating in Pope Francis even arranging for a plane to be on standby to transport him to a specialist hospital in Rome with another hospital in Munich Germany, also offering to care for him.
The legal issues raised by this little boy's all too brief history are really significant. They may be briefly summarised in the question of how far morally and legally should the attempts to save a life by medical means be taken?
The hospitals in Rome and Munich appear to have confirmed the view taken by Alfie's hospital in Liverpool, which essentially was that tragically his condition was impossible to cure or alleviate and that he could only be kept alive by artificial means. The German and Italian hospitals were willing to keep him alive there on the artificial means that had been used in Liverpool whereas the Liverpool hospital intended to follow their medical and legal guidance, by switching off the artificial life support systems.
Courts in the UK from the High Court all the way through the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court having considered the evidence from doctors, consultants and the Alder Hey NHS Hospital Liverpool, decided that the doctors' opinions were correct which would mean that little Alfie should be not be kept alive through use of machines but should be made as comfortable as possible when the artificial life support apparatus was turned off. This view was also upheld by the European Court of Human Rights and the life support apparatus was switched off when all civil legal avenues had been explored.
Little Alfie continued to live after the life support system was withdrawn so the family returned to the Court of Appeal . The Court carefully considered the latest position but essentially reiterated the views taken by all the previous judges in the UK and European courts. A few days later, sadly Alfie died from natural causes.
I hugely respect His Holiness Pope Francis but the views expressed by him to the effect that the medical life support systems should not be switched off, were not made as expressions of faith and morals required to be accepted as such by all of the Catholic faith. Rather they were made by an hugely compassionate man who has met the parents and listened to their heartfelt representations.
Accordingly it is open to individual Catholics to hold other views on the same fundamental issue.
This case is tragic and sad but the lawyers and doctors, came to their hugely difficult conclusions, which without having met with Alfie's parents, seem in my humble opinion to be correct.