Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Alfie vs. the System

The controversy about the illness and death of Alfie Evans in Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool makes me want to say a few things to clarify certain issues. I don't have inside information about medical or other details so I won't be going into those.

In this post I want to say something about about the various agencies of the state which were involved: the National Health Service, the Courts, the Police. In similar cases the Social Services can be part of the circus. A lot of people on social media, often from outside the UK, have had some very harsh things to say about these agencies. Those of us who live here and have to deal with them, and see others deal with them, are able to have a more nuanced attitude.

There is, all things considered, a lot to be grateful for in these institutions. I've personally had very good experiences with them, both directly and indirectly. The people working in them are often overworked and under paid. They have a high degree of professionalism. They are not financially or politically corrupt or corruptible in the ways that make dealing with similar organisations in other countries a constant problem. We should be proud to live in a country where they are, basically, on your side, if you have a problem. But they have their limitations.

They have limitations of resources. They have the limitations of their training and official protocols, which can on occasion conflict with common sense. (Any fixed set of administrative rules will on occasion conflict with common sense.) And they have the limitation, from each client's point of view, of trying to see things from everyone else's point of view. This sounds reasonable but can on occasion conflict with justice.

There is another more subtle limitation which arises from these. They are highly bureaucratic and have been given tasks to perform by the State. These tasks are intended to be benign, and usually are; the problem arises when a person interacting with these agencies finds himself in the category of an obstacle to the performance of an official task. If you disagree with what the protocol says should happen next, you become a problem. You become a piece of grit in the colossal bureaucratic machinery. Everyone you deal with starts looking at you as something to be evaded, dealt with, got out of the way of the task they have been given. The harder you struggle against it, the tighter the machinery will grip you.

Sometimes it is possible to defeat the machinery, but if it is a serious matter we are talking about a truly epic struggle. What is better, if at all possible, is to keep on the right side of the protocols: to find a way of presenting your problem in line with these protocols. This is a matter of experience, social skills, and practical wisdom. If you find yourself in conflict with these agencies and lack the relevant experience, you are going to need really good advice. Not always, but often, there are things you can say, buttons you can press, which if done early in the process can turn the situation around. Because these functionaries are not, generally speaking, malignant and unreasonable people. They are just trying to do their jobs.

I don't want to exonerate the state employees involved, when their procedures start producing unjust results: they are free and responsible individuals. But the pressure on them is subtle and immense. The flip side of the professionalism I noted earlier can be an inability to see things except through the lens of the official outlook. Decades of attempts by governments to get these agencies under some kind of control, particularly, in the NHS, financial control, has led to Kafka-esque limits on their discretion and acres of paperwork to prove that what should, officially, have happened, in any interaction with the public, actually happened. The only realistic rebellion open to the employees involved is to walk away from the job, and of course many take this course. Others become so influenced by official attitudes, sometimes derived from amoral government policies, that they end up morally corrupted.

As I say, I don't have a special insight into the inside details of the case, but from a UK perspective the Alfie affair has all the hallmarks of a family who got on the wrong side of the protocols. Alfie's parents were brilliant at creating a fuss, but clearly not so good at playing the system. This never ends well. Faced with increasingly powerful pressure--the MEP, the President of Poland, the Pope, the protesters--to violate their protocols, the system doubles down and calls in the police. Short of an armed revolution, you simply can't win that way. It just isn't possible, psychologically, politically, or legally (I'm speaking loosely here), for the system to concede defeat against such a frontal assault.

I should clarify that the pressure the Evans family created caused a number of good results. It created a cause celebre: it has shone a light onto the case and drawn attention to a real legal problem. It has thereby given a huge boost to the chances of changing the law. It had other, negative, effects. Above all, however, for Alfie's family it represented all they could do, and at that level their efforts must be respected. But in my judgement it was never going to have the necessary effect on the bureaucratic mind-set to get Alfie out of Alder Hey.

I'm not saying that's how things should be: obviously not. I'm just saying that this is how things are, and Catholics in the UK have developed robust and efficient networks of mutual aid to deal with it as best we can, centred around the Pro-Life movement. It is clear that only quite late in the day was the Evans family getting the benefit of this network, and even then it was not as systematic as it might have been. This emerges, for example, from the statement of the Christian Legal Centre here. I don't know if ultimate outcomes could have been different, but it is clear that things could have been handled better.

From the Catholic and pro-life side the lesson is a familiar one: families don't always get the support they need because they often don't know where to look for it. Unless you are already plugged into the Pro-Life movement, it may not cross your mind that there are several extremely experienced and quite well-resourced organisations willing to give you legal help for free, for example, when some hideous problem like this rears its head.

The visible, hierarchical Church could form the necessary connection between ordinary people and these sources of help, because the Church is closely identified with the Pro-Life position and everyone knows where to find the local priest and the local bishop. But thereby hangs another problem. The policy of the hierarchical Church has been to avoid, as best they can, any fight with the State since the Abortion Act. To say that with hindsight the Evans family made mistakes and that the medical profession has been unjustly maligned, as some commentators are saying, does not suggest that the English bishops were right to sit out the crisis on the sidelines. On the contrary, it suggests the opposite.

This is part of a four-part series on the Alfie Evans case:
Alfie vs. the System
Alfie and the Natural Law
Alfie and end of life care

Support the work of the LMS by becoming an 'Anniversary Supporter'.


  1. A system of government that is not able or willing to attend to the needs of its citizens is not a system worth maintaining. In this case NHS Beneficiaries are expected to fall into line because it is ‘free’. Of course it isn’t because it is funded by taxpayers that every working person pays into – & the bureaucrats that run it are simply employees. It is robotically driven & only those with very high incomes can avoid falling into the traps officially laid to encumber those who would have a different opinion from the government of the day.
    Then there is the input of EU & UN Law, unelected by the common people but with huge power to pass death sentences when it suits their overall NWO agenda. No problem if you want to end your life, but if you want to extend it (or that of a loved one) it becomes a different category & a doctor hovers with a lethal injection in his/her hand. They have now succumbed to kidnapping a family – one whose citizenship had changed & whose government was willing to pay for whatever medical assistance was required in their country. This must be viewed as a criminal act & those involved charged.

    In my youth nothing was free, everything had to be paid for, hence the wonderful charities set-up by the CC to administer assistance to those most in need. These charities have become NGO’s & are clones of NWO totalitarianism. The CC has become a huge part of the problem as our leadership happily resides in the clutches of the satanic forces who run them & are inured from preaching the Word of God against their evil agendas - Abortion, Euthanasia, SSM, & persecutions of every variety. They are willing to betray Catholics rather than ‘offend’ a Communist Regime who they claim are more Catholic than Catholics, they suspend/excommunicate/prohibit/sack those who uphold Catholic Doctrine. They stand idly by while ProLifers are charged (& imprisoned) for entering abortion clinics to talk to women or just standing outside saying the rosary, yet abominable men hold drug-fueled orgies within the walls of the Vatican & constantly violate young boys with impunity. Vile & evil men that purport to represent Christ on earth & assuage their consciences with the claim that Hell doesn’t exist. God will not be mocked & justice will be assured when they finally submit to His Will. For the majority of them that day is approaching fast.

  2. As you say, the policy of the institutional church has been to avoid battles with the state. I think it goes a bit further than this, however: my impression is that certain eminent episcopal clerics are so thoroughly imbued with the bureaucratic mindset themselves, that they could not help but see this controversy solely from the state's viewpoint, even in hindsight.

    Like you, I would refrain from criticizing any individual bishop as persons, or indeed as Christians. However, my impression is that for decades now, bishops have been selected primarily for their managerial acumen. They have come to see their success or failure from the standpoint of their ability to ensure diocesan machinery operates smoothly and without controversy. This has produced an environment in which every conflict or scandal, is only dealt with insofar as it becomes an obstacle to administration.

    On the one hand this has for better or worse mollified the doctrinal tension which has been seething since the 60's, but it is also largely responsible for the disaster of the sexual abuse crises which have sprung up in various places. Perhaps another example of this phenomenon is the response from some bishops to Cardinal Sarah's various suggestions for liturgical reform, such as celebration of the mass ad orientem. One gets the impression that the apprehension of many bishops did not arise so much from doctrinal conviction as the concern that such changes would cause a fuss.

    What's interesting is that what is perhaps Pope Francis' greatest weakness is what has set him at odds with many of his natural adherents in the Alfie case. Whatever we may say about him, he is by no means a bureaucrat. Indeed it is now hardly controversial to say that owing to his very personal style of governance, the Vatican bureaucracy has suffered a breakdown of process. It does not surprise me therefore, that in looking at the plight of Alfie's parents, Pope Francis ignored bureaucratic propriety completely and displayed such compassion.

  3. God help us if the present bench of bishops (with some exceptions), really were chosen for management skills.

    NHS outcomes are not bad but the structure is a tax funded sovietised bureaucracy prioritising providers.

  4. http://www.csas.uk.net/ This has a FAQ page which offers this definition:

    The persistent failure to meet a child�s basic physical and/or psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child�s health or development. Neglect may occur during pregnancy as a result of maternal substance abuse. Once a child is born, neglect may involve a parent or carer failing to: � provide adequate food, clothing and shelter (including exclusion from home or abandonment); � protect a child from physical and emotional harm or danger; � ensure adequate supervision (including the use of inadequate care-givers); or � ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment. It may also include neglect of, or unresponsiveness to, a child�s basic emotional needs.

    I think that depriving Alfie of food and water is covered by the definition above.

    1. It looks like the hospital's neglect has been going on long before they cut off his food and water: http://listeninginthedesert.com/?p=6927

  5. Thank you Joseph for your comments. As a social worker and Catholic it is rare to read something nuanced about the tough realities of working in health and social care today and being in receipt of these services. Many of the comments are disheartening and predictable, long on criticism and short on understanding, and depressingly generalising and ill-informed. People working in health and social care do their best in a difficult system every day, we are human beings and this sort of venting doesn't really benefit anyone in my view. I wish people would truly reflect, pray and listen before commenting. Anyway thanks for your thoughts, I found them interesting and helpful.

  6. For those who are interested in more than the distressing press coverage about Alfie Evans, the February Court judgement is publicly available with an internet search, I found the Acrobat PDF document by searching under Alder Hey and Alfie Evans court judgement, February 2018. I rather think that few of the people who are publically commenting, including journalists, have taken the time to read it. As the family and medical staff could not agree, the matter went to the Court, and the judge had to follow the law about best interest decision making, which does not give the judge as much scope as people seem to think. So comments about the hospital blocking Alfie's chances are a lot of hot air as the decision making had to go to the judge. The family of Charlie Gard have been quietly working with medical and legal professionals on a change in the law for some months, though I don't know the details of their work.

    1. So comments about the hospital blocking Alfie's chances are a lot of hot air as the decision making had to go to the judge.

      Nobody was forcing the hospital to oppose transferring Alfie to another facility.

  7. Anonymous2:39 pm

    Your account of the NHS makes it sound like a petulant child (only a very dangerous and murderous one) who must get his own way. It's not exactly admirable.