By Chelsy Gomez
In recent weeks, the eyes of the world were drawn to Liverpool, England as the life of 23-month-old Alfie Evans hung in the balance.
Despite drawing support from across the world, including from Pope Francis and the Italian and Polish governments, Alfie’s ventilator was removed against his parents’ wishes on April 23. Alfie suffered from an undiagnosed neurological condition and was not expected to survive long after the removal of the ventilator. However, Alfie surprised doctors as he breathed on his own for minutes, then hours, and then days, until he ultimately passed away on April 28.
Pope St. John Paul II warned that, “A person who, because of illness, handicap or, more simply, just by existing, compromises the well-being or life-style of those who are more favored tends to be looked upon as an enemy to be resisted or eliminated. In this way a kind of ‘conspiracy against life’ is unleashed” (Evangelium vitae, 12).
This “conspiracy against life” has a long history that runs deep and, over the centuries, has risen to the surface in many different forms. It is unleashed when a society equates human dignity with human ability, when we no longer focus on the burdens experienced by a person, but rather view the person as a burden.
The forced removal of Alfie’s ventilator happened to take place on the same day that the royal family and the British people rightly welcomed and celebrated the birth of a new little prince.
The juxtaposition of these two events is striking. Mere hours separated the happy announcement of a safe delivery of the healthy royal baby from the tragic news of the government-forced removal of life-sustaining care from little Alfie Evans.
The painful irony is that in the days that followed, as the world eagerly awaited the naming of this new royal child, it lost sight of the fact that every child deserves to be celebrated, cherished, and welcomed—regardless of their class, status, or medical condition.
The story of Alfie Evans is the most recent example of a growing hostility toward those whose lives are, for one reason or another, deemed to be “lesser,” “futile,” or “not worth living.”
Consider the staggering abortion rates of preborn children diagnosed with Down syndrome (nearly 100 percent in Iceland) or patients who, diagnosed with serious illnesses, are offered insurance coverage for assisted suicide, but not for treatment. All too often, efforts to end a life are cloaked in arguments of false compassion. These lives are construed as burdensome to those around them and not recognized as the unrepeatable gift that they are to the world. The feigned desire to end a person’s suffering ends a person’s life instead.
Human life—created in the image and likeness of God—is always a good, sacred in all stages and circumstances, and deserving of respect and protection from all that would threaten it.
It has often been said that we can measure a society by how it treats its weakest and most vulnerable members. We must never cease to witness to the dignity of human life, especially the most vulnerable among us. May Alfie’s memory support us in our efforts to end this “conspiracy against life.”
Chelsy Gomez is Program Associate for the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. For more information on the bishops’ pro-life activities, please visit www.usccb.org/prolife.