World News

Bitter Dispute Over a British Toddler Turns to Grief

Posted April 28, 2018 3:56 p.m. EDT
Updated April 28, 2018 4:00 p.m. EDT

LONDON — Alfie Evans, the terminally ill British toddler who was at the center of a bitter legal battle, died Saturday morning, his parents said, five days after he was taken off life support.

His mother, Kate James, posted on a Facebook page dedicated to his case, Alfie’s Army: “Our baby boy grew his wings tonight at 2:30 a.m. We are heartbroken.”

His father, Thomas Evans, also posted on Facebook: “My gladiator lay down his shield,” adding, “I love you, my guy.”

Alfie, 23 months old, had a rare degenerative brain condition that his doctors said was incurable. He had been in a semi-vegetative state for more than a year. Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, England, where he had been getting treatment, concluded it would be futile to treat him further.

But the boy’s parents fought, all the way up to the British Court of Appeal, to keep him on life support. His Facebook page drew nearly 800,000 members. Many staged protests outside the hospital. His case drew the support of the Italian government, which granted him citizenship, and the Vatican’s Bambino Gesù hospital offered to care for him.

On Saturday, Pope Francis posted on Twitter: “I am deeply moved by the death of little Alfie. Today I pray especially for his parents, as God the Father receives him in his tender embrace.”

The foreign minister of Italy, Angelino Alfano, also tweeted in Italian: “Goodbye, little Alfie. We loved you.”

Alfie, who was born May 9, 2016, was admitted to the hospital when he was 7 months old, after suffering seizures.

On Monday, the hospital withdrew life support against his parents’ wishes. But the boy continued to breathe on his own.

“For the third day now, there’s been not one single problem with him,” his father said outside the hospital on Thursday. “It’s not a miracle; it’s a misdiagnosis.”

His parents lost or were turned away in the High Court, Supreme Court and European Court of Human Rights. On Wednesday, the British Court of Appeal upheld a ruling that approved the withdrawal of care and sustenance. It also prohibited Alfie’s parents from seeking treatment elsewhere.

The parents’ lawyers, from the Christian Legal Center, had vowed to continue their appeals.

The rulings echoed another high-profile case, that of Charlie Gard, the British infant who had a rare genetic abnormality known as mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome. The boy could not see, hear, swallow or cry.

His plight drew attention from Francis and President Donald Trump.

Charlie’s parents fought a long and public battle to prolong his life, but bowed to the consensus of medical experts who said there was no realistic chance of saving him: The child had irreversible brain damage.

The British High Court ruled that he could be moved to a hospice and that his life support could be withdrawn. Charlie died in July 2017 with his parents by his side a day after.

The news of Alfie’s death drew an outpouring on social media.

“Awful news,” Tara Vernal wrote on Facebook. “Can’t help feel angry for you.”

Another person, Mary Fiander, wrote: “God bless you, beautiful Alfie. Fly high and free darling. Tom and Kate, my heart goes out to you both. Your little soldier was loved and adored by you. Nobody could have fought a tougher battle for Alfie. You are amazing.”

In a statement, the hospital expressed “heartfelt sympathies and condolences to Alfie’s family.”