Alfie Evans & how Catholics Must End the Death With Dignity Debate

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Hawaii recently became the fifth state in five years to pass a so-called “death with dignity” statute to legalize physician-assisted suicide. Gov. David Ige (D-HI) signed the Our Care, Our Choice Act on April 5, allowing terminally ill patients “who are mentally competent and within 6 months of death to legally obtain a prescription medication to end their life in a humane and dignified manner.”

The recent spike in “death with dignity” legislation comes at a time when 57 percent of Americans say doctor-assisted suicide is “morally acceptable” — an all-time high, according to Gallup.

Advocates of such laws falsely equate “dignity” with the freedom to choose a most undignified fate for themselves or their loved ones, and as the latest polls indicate, the deceptive rhetoric has been effective in persuading American voters.

This popular but misguided view of human dignity has played out tragically in the U.K. in recent months — first, in the case of Charlie Gard, and now, with Alfie Evans.

Gard, an 11-month-old suffering from a rare mitochondrial disease, died last summer after doctors deemed his condition incurable and successfully fought to let him “die with dignity” by taking him off life support against his parents’ wishes.

Evans, a 23-month-old from Liverpool with a condition similar to Gard’s, is now facing the same fate after a U.K. Court of Appeals ruled against his parents’ request to bring him home from Alder Hey Children’s Hospital.

American Catholics should be deeply disturbed by these cases, and they should be doing everything in their power to stop the United States from heading in the same direction.

Robbie Kramer, a Catholic mother from Kansas, is a fine example of an everyday citizen doing her part to defend eternal truths about the dignity of the human person. Mrs. Kramer, whose 26-year-old son Keith suffers from a condition very similar to that of Alfie Evans, posted a video to YouTube last month in which she begged Alfie’s doctors to reconsider what a dignified life could look like for him.

Unlike Alfie, Keith Kramer’s parents were allowed to bring him home and care for him for the duration of his life, which doctors estimated would last only 14 months. Instead, he has spent almost three decades in the loving care of his prayerful family.

Robbie Kramer told me that Keith has brought her family “closer to God than anything else has in this world.”

“Some see a loss of worthiness if one can not contribute to the world, if one can not interact within the confines of the doctors’ understanding,” she explained. “This is the major error of our times — we seem to think we must be in control of everything and everyone leaving out the One who actually is in control. There is no dignity in this pretense — none.”

Kramer added that those who advocate for prematurely ending the lives of disabled or elderly people might do so in the name of compassion, but they “have a misguided understanding of love.”

“They lash out against God and everything that is truth, goodness and beauty because they themselves need it most and have lost the ability to see it,” she said.

As the culture of death continues to claim more and more victims through euthanasia and abortion, Catholics must embrace their unique and critical role as bearers of truth and light.

The Church, in her infinite wisdom and mercy, has supplied us with the moral tools to lay the “death with dignity” debate to rest, and it is imperative that we do so in whatever ways we are able. Public officials, Church leaders, and members of the media certainly have an important part to play, but ordinary Catholic citizens must not neglect their divine obligation to work and vote in favor of life.

For centuries, the Catholic Church has been a consistent leader in speaking out against injustices like slavery, abortion, eugenics, and euthanasia. During this primary season, refuse to settle for lukewarm candidates who have fallen prey to relativism.

Politicians who see room for compromise on an issue as precious as life do not deserve the Catholic vote.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicVote.org

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About Author

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Carly Hoilman is a columnist at CatholicVote.org, and a freelance culture writer and editor based in the greater Philadelphia area. She is a wife, mother, Catholic convert, and alumna of The King's College in New York City. You can find her writings at CatholicVote, TheBlaze, Conservative Review, and Faithwire. Follow her work on Twitter @carlyhoilman.

6 Comments

  1. Rob Schroeder on

    I don’t think the “Death with Dignity” movement and the Evans situation are really related. As the author even states, physician-assisted suicide requires the express will of the patient. Evans’ situation is entirely different – even his parents concur with the opinion of doctors that he is in, for lack of a better term, a vegetative state. The question is whether a ventilator should be used to prolong the functioning of his body, since by all accounts, his brain has ceased functioning. I don’t think any reasonable person, Catholic or otherwise, would state that Evans’ parents are engaging in assisted suicide if they choose to have him removed from a ventilator.
    The larger question I would ask is how Evans’ end-of-life care would fit in the health care model that seems to be advocated by CatholicVote. This article comes to mind for me: https://www.catholicvote.org/stop-using-me-as-a-prop-for-obamacare/
    If it’s true that the health care model we should advocate for is one that allows healthy (presumably young) people to buy as little insurance coverage as possible, at the cheapest cost, I have a simple question: who is going to pay for the months and months of medical care for a person in Evans’ situation? It isn’t hard to figure out that the cost of a ventilator, feeding tubes, etc., all the things that keep a body alive even when the mind is gone, are incredibly expensive. How would this private insurance model work, if insurance companies take in little revenue from healthy people and thus have no choice but to pass on the cost of care to those who need it immediately? Are we OK with Evans’ parents being charged a gargantuan sum?
    If Evans’ family cannot pay that gargantuan sum, is it OK for the ventilator to be removed? I really can’t see how that would be the Catholic approach, frankly.

    • mm
      Stephen Herreid on

      The most salient question about Evans isn’t a question of the best thing to do for the boy. On that question, Catholic teaching is very broad and leaves open many options.
      The question is who has the competency to make the decision in the first place.
      One side, which can’t possibly be endorsed from any Catholic point of view, allows that the State should have the right to make the decision, and to enforce it against the will of a child’s parents if they resist.

      • Rob Schroeder on

        Naturally, but the flip side is, the will of the parents is irrelevant if the parents can’t afford the cost of care with private insurance. I understand that pointing out the flaws of the NHS is a favorite among conservatives, but I think it’s silly to ignore the similar implications in a private insurance model. That’s why the question of how we as a society are going to pay for end-of-life/critical care is an important question.
        I do not understand how a private insurance model in which healthy people pay as little as possible accomplishes sustainable end-of-life/critical care access. Insurance is based on sharing of risk. If the Evans family, and those in similar situations, are forced to share all the risk, the impact on price, and access, is obvious.

        • Rob-

          Is it necessary to solve the all the financials of end-of-life care before one levies a critique of the NHS actions here?

          Please recall that the NHS is not being asked to pay for Evan’s further care if it is sought elsewhere.

          You act is if there has never been such a thing as private insurance to cover catastrophic medical expenses or end-of-life care.

  2. Good comments. However, I think Alfie Evans is related to “Death with dignity” or “lebensunwertes Leben” to cite same dark German thinking, even though it is not easy to judge where the border is between denying life support and denying death to come. But in any case, as Stephen says, a State which grabs the decision to end life is deeply infringing parental rights.
    Isn’t it absurd: parents (mothers) have the right to kill their unborn but the Evans do not have the right to keep their kid alive?

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