A Time to Speak; A Time to Keep Silence

I have learned a valuable lesson during the past few days: it is sometimes wiser to allow misunderstandings to proliferate rather than try to set them right. You may wonder at that. Surely, we have a duty to speak up in defence of right? On the whole, I would agree, but twice in recent days, when the post-chemo brain fog has been at its foggiest, I have realised the uselessness of any intervention.

The first was a minor matter on Facebook: a thread about the headship of the Commonwealth which was misunderstood by some as being about the succession to the throne. I tried, vainly, to explain the difference but withdrew from the conversation when I saw how violent and ill-informed some of the comments were. I daresay some were actionable; certainly they presumed a knowledge of the characters and personal lives of those they discussed that I very much doubt any of them had!

The second was, and is, the much more troubling matter of Alfie Evans and his treatment. I have read what I can, and thought and prayed. I would like it to be a simple matter, but it isn’t. I am made very uneasy by what appears to be the suppression of some salient facts (e.g. that Alfie has breathed on his own for some 30+ hours since the life-support was switched off, not just 3 minutes), by some of the underlying assumptions (e.g. on one side that he is ‘brain-dead’ so his life does not count; on the other, that an infinity of NHS resources can be lavished upon him) and by the wild accusations being made by some people (e.g. that a Fentonyl injection is to be given to kill him). There is also the disgraceful barracking of medical and nursing staff at Alder Hey. The plain truth is that I don’t really know what is going on, and in that I am not alone. I suspect very few people do know what is really going on since only a handful are aware of all the facts and have the necessary legal and medical understanding to assess them. Even so, mistakes can be made: experts are not omniscient, and how could a parent ever be indifferent to the suffering of his own child?

Where does that leave us this morning? I think it leaves us on our knees, with a tiny child struggling for life, unaware of the furious battles being raged over his head. There are no words, only a silence that must embrace everyone involved — a silence that proceeds from the bruised heart of God himself.

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13 thoughts on “A Time to Speak; A Time to Keep Silence”

  1. Wise words…. A big YES to enfolding them in God’s love – Alfie, parents, medical and nursing teams and onlookers.

    We also need to see beyond death as the end… and the worst… Which is very easy for me to say, but if I were his parents I am sure I would feel differently.

  2. Dear D. Catherine,
    I’m glad the chemo fog has lifted for you! A friend gave me a little paperback book by a nun who was also a doctor working in Afghanistan/Pakistan with leper patients. She died recently. Her name was Ruth Pfau. Her jottings on the life she lived, which was extremely hard, are revelatory. When she came upon a question which was unanswerable, the why’s and wherefore’s of suffering mainly, she simply says that a) she has a right to demand an answer of God, but b) she adds it to her eschatological list of such things, and just gets on with the next thing to hand. She writes that many things fail because one believes one can solve every problem.
    She was nominated for the Nobel peace prize I think, for her work in creating an underground health service in Pakistan. She must have met many situations like poor Alfie Evans.

    • I have a list of questions for when I reached the place where there are the answers. Sometimes the answers arrive earlier (“why fleas?” Because they are food for monkeys and also they kept the guards out of Corrie ten Boom’s prison hut). For other answers I’ll just have to “possess myself in patience” and trust.
      Thank you for your wise words.

  3. I also feel very confused by the Alfie Evans issue but like you the going and froing of good versus evil comments causes me concern and as a health professional myself I feel it is in the best interests of all closely involved to heed the advice of medics who have undertaken extensive research and training to be in the unfortunate place of having the responsibility of life and death decisions I am reassured that although very painful for these young parents who I truly understand why they don’t want their little boys life to end these decisions are not taken lightly and that there will be a good counselling and support service available to them

    • Linda you are so right. When you look into a doctor’s eyes and hear his anger and frustration when he tells you there are no more options left for your child. When a consultant tells you very gently that your pregnancy will almost certainly end in tears….my heart goes out to Alfie’s parents as they face the reality that their child will never be the same as he was before his illness. The Alfie they knew will never come back. And the additional media circus cannot be easy to handle either, or the wilder elements of the crowd outside.

  4. On our knees indeed is where we need to be as only God is all knowing. This pertains to our difficulties too and where we should be in supporting one another, on our knees to beg for God’s help and mercy in all situations. He is love and mercy itself. May God be in all that is going on with Alfie, console his dear parents and direct the physicians and nurses to do His will. We are all God’s servants.

  5. Why can’t “they” just allow this family to travel to Rome and secure care there? I think it would be the best for Alfie’s family and for that institution. Going forward, perhaps amending the current law to admit that – in the absence of evidence of abuse and neglect – parents can and do make appropriate decisions regarding their child’s care and welfare.

    • The legal and bioethical issues are complex and would require a very long blog post for which I have neither the requisite knowledge nor the aptitude. The Court Judgement of 20 February explains clearly and simply why the law is invoked ‘in the best interests of the child,’ but the situation has changed several times since then and there is a real difficulty in establishing exactly what is going on. That is why at this stage I have urged restraint in voicing opinion, especially when accusatory, and instead urged persevering prayer. We have held vigil through two nights for everyone involved and will go on praying, just as we continue to pray for all those involved in Charlie Gard’s sad case.

  6. You are so right…we don’t and shouldn’t know the medical history and therefore to speculate on what may be right or wrong in this situation is not helpful. I nursed so many babies like this through my training at GOS in the 1970s, mysterious illnesses that took their natural course; no high-tech interventions to prolong life just loving day-to-day nursing care. I have no doubt this is exactly what Alfie will have had every day and night for the last eighteen months, it is only technology that has allowed him to live this long and to allow the disease to progress behind the bounds of medical knowledge and no medical team will have wanted to give up on him. But there comes a time when to prolong that life becomes an experiment and we have ethics that don’t allow that to happen here in the UK. This will have been searingly painful for everyone involved, but may his soul now rest in peace and rise in glory and may there be comfort, solace and consolation for his parents in the months and years to come.

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