Cardinal Vincent Nichols said some of those supporting Alfie Evans’s family were not serving Alfie’s best interests, and others were even using the boy’s illness “for political purposes.”
Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster and president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, was speaking to KAI, a Polish Catholic news service.
Evans, who suffered from an undiagnosed brain ailment which left him in a semi-vegetative state, died on Saturday morning, just days before his second birthday.
His parents – Thomas Evans and Kate James – fought a legal battle to move him from Liverpool’s Alder Hey Hospital to the Vatican-owned Bambino Gesù pediatric hospital in Rome.
The Liverpool hospital said it was in Alfie’s “best interest” that his ventilator be removed, and said further treatment was futile, and a move would cause the child undue distress.
The parents’ battle garnered international support, including from Pope Francis, who met with Alfie’s father in the Vatican, and urged he and his partner be allowed “to seek new forms of treatment” for Alfie.
President Andrzej Duda of Poland also said “Alfie must be saved,” and the case was closely followed in the country.
Although many commentators around the world questioned why Alfie could not be moved, the bishops in England were supportive of the hospital, and the British legal system which prevented the Evans family from moving him.
“It is important to remember that the Alder Hey Hospital looked after Alfie not for two weeks or two months, but for eighteen months,” Nichols told KAI. “And during this time, they consulted the best specialists from around the world. Therefore, the position of the medical staff was very clear that there was no more medical help that could be given to the boy.”
The cardinal was in Gniezno, Poland, April 28-29 as the papal legate for the 600th anniversary of the city’s archbishop being recognized as primates of the country.
Nichols noted the interest Poland had in the case but said decisions must be made based on “complete information.”
“In recent weeks, many people have held positions on Alfie, without knowing all of the facts,” he said. “This did not always serve the boy’s greatest good. Unfortunately, there were even those who used this situation for political purposes.”
The cardinal noted the case touched many people’s hearts but said they must be able to act rationally and not be swayed by their emotions.
As Alfie’s case made its way through the courts, several commentators accused the doctors of Alder Hey of wanting to kill Alfie or accusing them of promoting euthanasia (which is illegal in Britain.)
Nichols said the staff at Alder Hey were “hurt” by these accusations, and the cardinal noted that many of the doctors and nurses caring for Alfie were Catholic.
“The Church makes it very clear that there is no moral obligation to continue extraordinary treatment when it has little effect, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church also teaches that palliative care, which is not a denial of care, can be an act of mercy,” he said.
Nichols also praised Alfie’s parents for doing “everything possible” for their son, and noted their last public statement before Alfie died, in which they expressed a desire to heal their relationship with the hospital.
“I think that the most difficult thing is to act in the best interest of a child, which is not always the same as what the parents would want,” the cardinal said, defending the British judicial process.
“Therefore, the court is not judging what is best for the parents, but what is best for the child. It is not in the child’s best interest to prolong extraordinary and futile treatment which the opinion of the entire medical establishment says cannot help.”