In the very sad case of Alfie Evans, plenty of views (or paraphrases of views) have been attributed to the English bishops. But it is worth reading what Cardinal Vincent Nichols actually said:

“Wisdom enables us to make decisions based on full information, and many people have taken a stand on Alfie’s case in recent weeks who didn’t have such information and didn’t serve the good of this child. Unfortunately, there were also some who used the situation for political aims.

“It’s important to remember Alder Hey Hospital cared for Alfie not for two weeks or two months, but for 18 months, consulting with the world’s top specialists – so its doctors’ position, that no further medical help could be given, was very important.

“The Church says very clearly we do not have a moral obligation to continue a severe therapy when it’s having no effect; while the Church’s Catechism also teaches that palliative care, which isn’t a denial of help, can be an act of mercy. Rational action, spared of emotion, can be an expression of love; and I’m sure Alfie received this kind of care.

“It’s very hard to act in a child’s best interest when this isn’t always as the parents would wish – and this is why a court must decide what’s best, not for the parents, but for the child.”

While the cardinal’s words make complete sense to me, I do not claim to have any special insights to offer on this heartrending case, and I am sure the debate will go on. But it does bring up a real paradox in the way society thinks about the value of lives. Despite what some of the more extreme anti-NHS campaigners seem to think, once a child is born, however premature and ill, the health service will spend millions and deploy every available technology to keep the infant going, even if the prospects seem hopeless. And most of us accept that use of scarce resources. Yet, on the other hand, unborn children are thought of differently, as somehow not quite as real.

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