The case of the baby Alfie Evans is an interesting one. Essentially it involved a clash between the wishes of the parents and the wishes of the state and the medical profession. Alfie’s parents wanted to keep him on life support, the state and the doctors didn’t. It appears that the state and doctors won, despite widespread support for the parents’ stand.
I’m always a bit uneasy about these heart-break stories, if only because I suspect there are dozens of similar cases that, for one reason or another, the media have chosen not to highlight. But if you want to read a report of the Good Guys vs the Bad Guys, go no further than Kathy Sheridan’s piece in today’s Irish Times, titled ‘Battle over life of Alfie Evans a lesson for us all.’ Essentially Kathy sees “religious exploitation” of Alfie as a warning, with the Repeal the Eighth referendum coming up in the south.
She speaks of the “distraught parents” with sympathy, but follows up with reference to how “ a reckless mob of self-styled Christians, pro-life and far-right websites and their armies of bigoted, ignorant trolls, many of them American, impelled itself to the centre of this profoundly vulnerable, tragic family’s life.” And she adjudges the Pope’s intervention as “misguided.”
The parents, as far as I can tell, weren’t expecting some miracle when they travelled to the Vatican and met the Pope. What they wanted was to keep their child on a life-support system. According to the doctors, Kathy says, the child was brain-dead and all counselling was that he should be taken off life-support. There was considerable solidarity from members of the public, both in Britain and the US, for the wishes of the parents, and opposition to those who would insist that Alfie be removed from the life-support system.
Kathy’s central concern, however, appears to be not so much Alfie as the coming Repeal the Eighth referendum. She criticises the “unChristian” Christian groups in the US supporting the parents, and notes that there were “photographs of supporters in various US states holding ‘We stand with Ireland – Save the Eighth’ posters.”
She ends the piece with a stark alert:
“Let it be another warning to the State – and anyone who cares about democracy – to wake up to research in recent days by journalist Gavin Sheridan, showing that US-based Catholic activists have been engaged by pro-life groups here and are using Facebook to interfere in our referendum on the Eighth Amendment.”
Well hey. That’s a pretty serious charge – that “US-based Catholic activists…are using Facebook to interfere in our referendum”. My mind immediately flashes to the claims of Russian interference in the American election.Did yours? Mind you, Kathy doesn’t say these people are doing something illegal – just that they’re “interfering”. Does she feel the same way about people in the north who have a view either way on the referendum issue? Or someone in England? (Check David Alton’s letter, also in today’s Irish Times.)
There’s a strange mirror-image effect here. In the case of Alfie Evans, his parents wanted desperately to keep him alive, and all sorts of people, as is their right, rallied to support them. The state and the medical profession felt otherwise and they won. In the case of repealing the Eighth, the idea is to allow the mother (the father doesn’t really feature) to decide if she wants to remove her child from its life-support system (ie., her body) and that her wishes should be the only decider. If the Eighth is repealed, as it looks like it may, mothers won’t need the Pope or anyone else to support them: by law they’ll be entitled to end the life of the child inside them.
I was going to end with noting Kathy’s intolerance of anyone who saw the situation differently from her. But I think instead I’ll point to one word Kathy uses in her final paragraph: “research”. When I was a university lecturer, we always made a point of telling students that saying “Research indicates” without a footnote referring to what research, where and how it was conducted, was to put a decent grade in jeopardy. Kathy’s research reference is to a journalist called Gavin Sheridan – agus sin é- that’s it. “Research says”, Kathy, is the province of the TV advert-for-washing-powder, which presents its product as solving all dirty linen problems. The average viewer, mercifully, sees through the flim-flam.
Here’s the link to Kathy’s article. I think her piece is high on name-calling and low on clarity. See what you think.