In the few hours since I sent in the piece below, a remarkable succession of events has occurred that paint the decision of the UK authorities in ever-bleaker colors. In the hospital, Alfie was removed from the respirator in accordance with the court’s decision. For the moment, however, he has continued breathing. He is under police guard to ensure that no one interferes with the process by, one supposes, supplying him with oxygen. This precaution is necessary because a crowd of sympathizers outside tried to break into the hospital but were held back by other police.
At this point, the controversy over Alfie is an international one. Alfie’s parents sought help from the pope, who appealed for solidarity with them, and they have arranged for a Rome hospital to receive Alfie and resume palliative care. And this evening, the Italian government unexpectedly intervened. Its foreign and interior ministers are reported to have extended Italian citizenship to Alfie with the intention of asking the British government to allow this new citizen to be repatriated to Italy for this treatment. A judge is said to be examining their unusual request that pits government against government in a struggle over whether or not to prolong the life of a dying child. It is like the closing sequence of a suspense thriller in which the Italian diplomats struggle to rescue the child before the police and the hospital succeed in protecting his slow inevitable extinction.
In a movie, Alfie would survive in the last final scene. It’s hard to believe that he will do so in life. We can understand the quite simple emotions that move Alfie’s parents, the crowds of sympathizers, and the Italian diplomats and their voters. But how are we to interpret the official UK decisions? It seems to me (partly on the basis of earlier such conflicts) that all involved will believe passionately that they are doing the right thing. But something else has taken over their thoughts and action: They are now determined to defend their claim to be Alfie’s real parents and their compassionate administration of his inevitable death without pain — against what they see as the primitive sentimentality of those trying to rescue him. They grit their teeth and get on with it, maybe feeling a little noble about it all. And they don’t realize that they are moving by baby steps towards the compulsory euthanasia of the weak and sick.