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June 2018

Ever wonder why a dictionary is so fat? Probably not, but that’s the question.   And the answer may be that the human mind—at least the mind that thinks and talks in English—is never satisfied. It’s not satisfied with giving a word a meaning and saying, “Enough.” Then again, maybe the real problem is that we don’t remember that someone already defined a word, so use it in different ways. New meanings come to be. The dictionary gets a little fatter, which is why we don’t carry it around and look at it, which is why it gets fatter still.

Examples are many, but the word “takeaway” will do nicely. It’s been defined as the start of a backswing in golf. As golf dwindles in popularity, the definition will fade into the sunset. Another definition is also related to sports—and to crime: it’s the taking possession of things held by others. A football player intercepts a pass or recovers a fumble. A thief swipes a cell phone. Then there’s one more meaning, perhaps the one we know best: a takeaway is something we learn from what’s happened.

We learn much from tragedies, like the one that happened to the Evans family. For Tom and Kate Evans, May 2016 was such a happy time. Their first child, Alfie, was born. Like typical parents, they were filled with hopes and dreams for their son. But as Alfie aged, problems surfaced; he repeatedly missed usual developmental milestones. Afraid for their son, Tom and Kate checked him into the Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, England. Alfie appeared to have a degenerative brain disorder, but doctors couldn’t understand exactly what it was or why it was happening. For the parents, it was all such a bad dream.

It turned into a gut-wrenching nightmare. The hospital decided that neither it nor anyone else could help Alfie. It petitioned the English court system to remove Alfie from all life support. Tom and Kate strenuously objected. “He’s our son,” they pleaded. But to the state, it was in Alfie’s “best interests” to come off life support. Doctors told the courts that he would die shortly thereafter. Unwilling to accept the death sentence, Tom and Kate left no stone unturned in their efforts to save Alfie. They found people willing to help. Vatican hospital Bambino Gesú offered to treat him free of charge. An air-ambulance stood by, waiting to whisk Alfie from Liverpool. The Italian government declared him an Italian citizen so that it could take charge of him. Even Pope Francis spoke out on Alfie’s behalf.

But the state turned a deaf ear to it all. And what followed can only be described as a slow-motion execution. With the court’s approval, the hospital cut off Alfie’s life support. Anyone willing to help Alfie and his parents were literally locked out of the hospital. Worse, Alfie was locked in. Like a criminal, Alfie was considered to be a flight risk, and the state was not about to let him go. Contrary to the hospital’s expectations, Alfie did not quickly die after being removed from life support. He lingered for five days. At first, the hospital did not give him oxygen; then it withheld food for 36 hours. Alfie’s last ten minutes were spent receiving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation from his father. Strangely, the children’s hospital did not autopsy Alfie to learn from his death what they could not understand during his life.

Alfie’s death, and Tom and Kate’s pain, will be so very useless if we don’t take away something from them. Their story reminds us about how love works: through relationships. Love spreads like a pebble dropped into a still pond that ripples out, creating circles of relationships. At the very center is God, Who is Love. His love flows out into each child He creates. Next come the parents, through whom God works to bring His children into the world. Being closest to God’s handiwork, they are the most loving towards the child. The great love of parents for their children is why God gives to parents the ultimate authority to act in their children’s best interests. The next ring is made up of brothers and sisters, grandparents, and extended family members. Then comes the ring for relationships like friends, teachers, and others. But just as rings weaken as they spread out, so does the intensity of their love.

What is at the furthest end of those rings? The state. It cannot love, for the state is not a person at all. It operates under a different agenda. Love gives; the state takes. Whatever the state seemingly “gives” it has first taken—hopefully legally—but taken nonetheless. This is why our human rights must never been seen as coming from the state, because the state has the power to take. As Tom and Kate learned, it’s why state-run healthcare can be so dangerous. It takes control away from individuals, even parents. It is one thing for a hospital to say that further medical intervention would be futile. That is a medical call. It’s quite another for a state to literally hold a child so that parents cannot act. Tom and Kate became parents in name only. We are fools if we surrender to any government so much control.

There is another takeaway, this one about the Church. Following Alfie’s death, Britain’s leading cardinal defended what happened. “It’s very hard to act in a child’s best interest when this isn’t always as the parents would wish – and this is why a court must decide what’s best not for the parents, but for the child.” He was critical of people who “sought political capital” from the situation without knowing the facts. His comments were surprising in light of the Pope’s intervention, and they were strongly criticized. The takeaway here is that the Church must never get too cozy in its relationship with the state. Because it gets lots of government money to fund social justice initiatives, the Church may be tempted to go along with what the state wants to do so not to make waves. But the Church must remain vigilant and outspoken when human lives are threatened and God’s natural order is being compromised to serve a state’s ends. We heard too little from the Church this time. It needs to raise its voice.

We are not promised any length of days here on earth. Children like Alfie die. Parents like Tom and Kate are left to grieve. But none of it should be like that.


Paul V. Esposito is a Catholic lawyer who writes on a variety of pro-life topics. He and his wife Kathy live in Elmhurst, Illinois and have six children.

© Paul V. Esposito 2018. Culture of Life. Permission to copy and distribute for pro-life purposes is granted. Visit us at and on Facebook.

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