(Bloomberg View) -- What the British government is doing to a baby and his family is almost unbelievable. The state has determined that Alfie Evans, afflicted as he is by a rare neurodegenerative disorder, has so poor a quality of life that no efforts should be made to keep him alive.
He was taken off ventilation, but continued, surprising the doctors, to breathe. He has also been deprived of water and food. His parents want to take him to Italy, where a hospital is willing to treat him. The British government says no, and has police stationed to keep the boy from being rescued. It is, after all, in his best interest to die. (Yes, the British courts have made that determination, interpreting an act of Parliament, and in Britain "government" often refers to the executive branch. The point here is that we are discussing a policy of the British state.)
There are end-of-life cases that raise genuinely complicated issues. The same course of medical treatment might be obligatory in one set of circumstances, permissible in another, and cruel in a third. There are gray areas and judgment calls.
This is not one of those cases. There is no allegation that providing the baby with nutrition and hydration, or treatment generally, will cause him suffering — or that extending his life will prolong his suffering, since there is no indication that he has been suffering.
The family is not asking the British government to pay for expensive treatments. They just want the freedom to take their boy to people who will try to keep him alive rather than cause his death.
The considerations that move the government are that the baby’s doctors consider it unlikely that he will ever attain a high level of cognitive functioning or be able to survive on his own, and likely that his condition will eventually kill him. The courts have decided that Alfie Evans therefore derives no benefit from continuing to live.
It really is this simple: The British state has decided that it is the baby’s best interest to die, and it is trying to ensure that he dies expeditiously. It is overriding parental rights in the process.
The family and its supporters assert, with justified outrage, that it is barbaric to sentence anyone to death by starvation for the crime of being dependent on others, and that parents have a right to make medical decisions for their children. The courts are treating the parents as though they were in the grip of irrational, if understandable, emotions. They are merely loving their baby. It is the British state that appears to be reacting in an irrational and nearly incomprehensible, way.
The Guardian reports that the case has become a “rallying cry for social conservatives” in the United States. So it has. My question is: Why aren’t liberals horrified by the British government’s behavior, too? Shouldn’t everyone be?
Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg View columnist. He is a senior editor at National Review, visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and contributor to CBS News.
For more columns from Bloomberg View, visit http://www.bloomberg.com/view.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.