Fact-Averse Conservatives Use UK Toddler's Death To Argue Evils Of Health Care For All
Early this morning, following a devastating and incurable illness, legal battles and strife, 23-month-old Alfie Evans, of the UK, died, after being taken off life support Monday. He had been in a persistent, semi-vegetative state for more than a year after being diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease associated with severe epilepsy and was being kept alive by artificial ventilation.
The doctors who treated him said there was no cure and absolutely no chance for anything to change in his condition, but his parents wanted to keep him alive on life support anyway. Eventually, the doctors and the parents ended up going to the Family Division of the UK High Court in order to resolve the issue, and after a lengthy battle, it was decided that taking Alfie off of life support was in his best interests. The family also argued that a hospital in Rome had agreed to take Alfie, but the court also decided that this was a bad idea.
As with the Charlie Gard case, conservatives are attempting to use this kid's tragic life as an example of why socialized medicine is super evil and a bad idea.
To this end, they have created a narrative that is very far from the truth. That a "death panel" -- in cahoots with the NHS, of course -- decided that Alfie's condition was not worth "the resources" because he was terminally ill. Then, even though a hospital in Italy (a country they assume does not have socialized health care) said they were able to cure him, the evil NHS said "No! It has been decreed that this baby shall die, and die he shall!" and then he did. Had he been kept alive on life support, Jesus probably would have intervened, and there would have been a MIRACLE and he would have been totally fine and lived a long and happy life.
None of this is true. There was no "death panel," there was family court. This was not about "resources" it was about what was best for the child. The doctors from Rome came up to the UK and examined him, and determined that he was untreatable and that his condition was irreversible. They also said that "given Alfie’s epilepsy, there was a risk of him suffering further brain injury if he was transferred abroad." Oh, and Italy also has socialized health care.
Shocking as this may be, family courts in the United States also, often, decide that what is best for a child is not what their parents want. Though it would be unlikely for a court to rule that a child in a persistent vegetative state be taken off of life support as long as they can pay for it (and our hospitals are pretty likely to let them do this anyway, because KA-CHING), there have been many cases where, for instance, a child is given a blood transfusion despite their parents' religious views, and cases where the courts have denied experimental treatments.
Additionally, this has literally nothing to do with the NHS or "socialized medicine" in any capacity, and everything to do with British law. Claire Fenton-Glynn, a legal scholar at the University of Cambridge, explained this to CNN during the Charlie Gard case:
English law, explained Fenton-Glynn, does not see parents as having the "right" to make decisions on behalf of their children. "The concept is called parental responsibility: That is, the parent has a responsibility to make decisions, to look after the child," she said. "Parenthood doesn't give them rights; parenthood gives them responsibilities."
Because of the way English law works, this would have happened regardless of whether or not they had socialized health care for everyone. Additionally, it may surprise these people to know that private health care and private health insurance also exist in the UK. It's not an issue of money or "resources" -- people can and do get non-NHS health care and pay for it out of their own pocket. If the courts had determined that it was in the child's best interest to stay on life support, and it was merely an issue of the NHS cruelly not wanting to continue to pay for that, they absolutely could have taken the child to private care. If it were an issue of money and resources, they also would not have opposed the move to Italy. Dig?
Were the United States to have socialized health care, this would not be an issue here because we have different child welfare laws. Personally, I'm team UK child welfare laws, because I think it is shitty and cruel to keep someone alive with machines if there is no chance they are ever going to recover. If that is what someone personally wants for themselves, fine -- but making that decision for someone else, even if it's your own child, is just wrong.
To turn this into an example of why we must not make sure that everyone in this country has health care, of why it is very good and humanitarian for people to go bankrupt getting medical treatment is deeply disingenuous and deeply cruel. Especially when they would be 100% fine with Alfie being taken off of life support if it were the US and the parents could not afford to keep him on it.
We live in a country where people not only have to regularly crowdfund not only to pay for medical care, but also to simply pay for their health insurance. Where people go bankrupt and lose their houses getting medical treatment. Where people regularly die because they couldn't afford medical treatment or because they didn't catch a disease soon enough because they couldn't afford preventative care. Where our actual costs for health care and medications are much higher than in countries where everyone gets to have health care. And we're supposed to be cool about that because a court in a country with different child welfare laws than we have ruled that parents could not keep a vegetative toddler with no chance of recovery on life support indefinitely? Hard pass.
If you want to argue against socialized medicine, fine. Lots of people are not into it! Only slightly more than half of the country (52%) wants it right now. But concocting a completely absurd narrative about how the reason you don't want it has nothing to do with your taxes or a belief that poverty is a moral failing that ought to be punished and everything to do with what a fabulous, life-loving humanitarian you are is ridiculous and no one is buying it. Hopefully, anyway.
Update/Correction: First paragraph originally said Alfie Evans had been taken off life support today; he was taken off a respirator Monday, and died today. Wonkette regrets the error.
Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Previously, she was a Senior Staff Writer at Death & Taxes, and Assistant Editor at The Frisky (RIP). Currently, she writes for Wonkette, Friendly Atheist, Quartz and other sites. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse