Leading Christian doctor Peter Saunders has spoken out in the “deeply complex and difficult case” of Alfie Evans.
Dr Saunders said his heart goes out to the parents of the sick young boy, as well as to the medical staff who are caring for him.
In a heartfelt blog post, Dr Saunders said doctors must be respected if they decide not to treat patients, but that medics and judges should not stand in the way of parents seeking an alternative.
UPDATE: Alfie Evans died in the early hours of the morning of Saturday, 28 April. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with his parents, Tom and Kate.
The case has generated “intense emotion and accusations on both sides”, he noted, rebuking some of the “particularly vicious” criticism.
And Dr Saunders recognised that he is “not privy to the full clinical details”.
But, he said, for the hospital and courts to stand in the way of Alfie’s parents trying a new option risks “appearing paternalistic and controlling”.
In his blog post, he drew out the “important ethical difference” between the active ending of life and the withdrawal of treatment.
“The former, I believe, is always wrong, whereas the latter is sometimes wrong and sometimes right depending on the clinical circumstances.”
But, he said, these decisions “must be made on grounds that the treatment is not worth giving, not that the patient is not worth treating”.
On the question of who should ultimately decide, Dr Saunders said Alfie’s parents are “doing what they believe is best for him, even if they are clinging to false hope”.
“Overriding parental responsibility should only be contemplated when a parent is harming a child deliberately or out of ignorance, or failing to care for it adequately. But none of these things apply in this case.”
He added that while it was likely Alfie will “continue his downward trajectory and die”, if his parents want to try other options, “then the hospital and the courts should not stand in their way”.
“In doing so they risk appearing paternalistic and controlling and thereby doing huge damage to their own, and our country’s, reputation.”
Dr Saunders concluded: “When a doctor or judge in good faith opts not to treat a child because he believes it is not right or appropriate to do so he (or she) should be respected in that professional judgement.
“But he should not be able to stand in the way of a second opinion being sought by the child’s equally committed parents.”