May 4, 2018
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
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.