Why Alfie Evans’s Death isn’t a Result of Socialized Medicine

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So recently I learned via social media that England decided to kill a toddler and that’s why we can’t have single payer healthcare in the United States. I was very disappointed to learn about this, because I’m a filthy liberal who wants to give all my money away to people who need it but don’t deserve it for some reason. Oy. Where to even begin.

Alfie Evans was a toddler who was born seemingly healthy but developed seizures a few months later and was essentially hospitalized from then on. His doctors said he had a degenerative brain disease, and sure enough by the time he was almost two he was braindead and being kept alive only by a ventilator. The doctors pointed out that it was inhumane for him and his family to keep him in that state and so they recommended he be removed from life support.

His young parents, though, decided that if Alfie could breathe by ventilator than he could still get better, despite the protestations of his doctors. They appealed to the Catholics, who as you may know are very big on keeping white babies alive and not really anybody else. Sure enough, they got the Christian Legal Centre to represent them in court, and even flew to Rome to get the Pope’s blessing, which seems like a thing that could at least be done over Skype considering that their kid is stuck in a hospital bed in England and generally you’d want to stick pretty close but hey, who am I to judge people in a position I will literally never be in because I won’t have kids, and if I did have kids I would listen to what doctors had to say about their medical care.

The parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, wanted to take Alfie to a Vatican-affiliated hospital in Rome, but the doctors said that it would be incredibly unethical to transport a braindead child hours by plane just to operate on him and hook him back up to machines to keep him breathing for, and I quote, “an undefined period.”

The parents and the Christian Legal Centre took the hospital to court, where the judges ruled in favor of the doctors. They then turned to the Supreme Court, where the judges wouldn’t even let them appeal. Finally, they went to the European Court of Human Rights, where the judges again said they did not have a case. Why? Because the doctors made the right decision initially: Alfie’s human rights demanded that his treatment cease.

In the end, doctors were able to terminate Alfie’s care and he of course died.

Meanwhile over on social media, conservatives and Christians spun this as the State overruling the rights of parents and making a cold-hearted decision to kill a little boy because his care cost too much, with even the vaccine denialists getting in on the action by claiming he was killed by vaccines and it’s all a big cover-up. Prominent American alt-righter Charlie Kirk demanded to know:

“Hey @jimmykimmel why did you demagogue the national conversation to advocate for socialized healthcare when it came to your son, but you remain shockingly silent when socialized medicine killed Alfie Evans? ?”

So did socialized medicine kill Alfie Evans? Obviously not. The people saying shit like that have no idea how the English government, socialized medicine, or America’s current healthcare industry actually operate. If they did, they’d realize that first of all, this was a decision made by the court system, not “socialized medicine.” You see, the original recommendation was made by doctors. The parents had every right to object to the doctors’ expertise. The court system then found that it was the parents who were attempting to violate the human rights of their child, not the doctors.

Then, let’s look at what would (or could) happen under the current American system. Instead of doctors making decisions based entirely upon what is best for the patient (in this case, Alfie Evans), the patient and their family have to make decisions based on their own insurance coverage and financial situation. They have to decide if they have the money to keep their child on life-support, or if they are even able to go see the doctors in the first place when the seizures started.

Let’s say that have health insurance, so they do go to the doctor and they do put the child on life-support without being financially ruined. When the doctors suggest they pull the plug and the parents want to continue, it’s up to the insurance company to decide if they will continue to provide coverage for the patient. In this case it’s not a doctor making the decision and then trained judges evaluating that decision — it’s a paper pusher at an HMO who gets to decide if the patient lives or dies. The parents would then still have to go to court if they wanted to force the insurance company to pay, which is what happened to the family of Selah Canton, who was in a persistent vegetative state following a drowning. It was Florida Governor Rick Scott who granted them a waiver for a 24-hour nurse.

Or of course there’s the famous case of Terry Schiavo, who was in a persistent vegetative state for years while her husband tried to terminate her care (which were her actual wishes) and her parents attempted to force the hospital to continue keeping her on life support. That case went to the courts, who again decided in favor of the doctors, who said Schiavo was already dead and that the humane thing to do was to terminate treatment. The parents appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court, but in the end the doctors, Terry, and her husband won out and she was removed from life support.

But despite these and many other cases, I don’t see Charlie Kirk and the alt-right demanding to know why private healthcare caused those deaths. The simple reason why is that they will use anything they can to demonize a “liberal” program that is not perfect but is obviously far better than anything else, which anyone can see by looking at any study showing that we pay the most amount of money for healthcare despite seeing lower life expectancy than other industrialized countries. And do you want to talk about babies dying? The United States has an infant mortality rate that’s 50% worse than the UK’s. 50%. Maybe start thinking about why that is before you yell about a single sensationalized case that you know nothing about.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

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