In 1947, Dylan Thomas wrote “Do not go gentle into that good night,” as a plea to his father to continue fighting against his impending death. It is unclear what inspired Thomas’ verse in this case, since the poem was written a few years before his own father’s health problems started.
On the same theme, one might recall Jimmy Valvano’s stirring speech at the 1993 ESPN awards, where he said: “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.” For Valvano at least, his cancer diagnosis was not the end of the fight but only the beginning. He continues, “That’s what I’m going to try to do every minute that I have left. I will thank God for the day and the moment I have. If you see me, smile and give me a hug. That’s important to me too.”
I mention these examples of a more traditional attitude toward death because 1947 and 1993 were not that long ago. The many times Thomas’ verse has been quoted approvingly and the times people have drawn inspiration from those words to fight on was not that long ago. Most of the people who clapped on when Valvano gave his speech are still alive.
This all leads me to ask, “What happened?”
On Monday, April 23, following the ruling of a UK court, 23-month-old Alfie Evans was removed from life support. Hospital “experts” assured everyone that young Alife would not survive more than a few moments after the ventilator had been removed. Their staggering miscalculation was exposed as Alfie continued to live, he was left for six hours without water and for about a day without food. Despite all this, Alfie lived on. This, however, did nothing to dissuade the benevolent experts to claim that death was still in Alfie’s best interest.
On April 25, a UK Appellate Court decided that—despite this small oversight on the part of the hospital staff—it was still best for Alfie to die. His life had already been determined to be not worth living, you see; the experts had already spoken. In the early hours of Saturday morning, Alfie finally expired, after surviving without life support for five days.
In the meantime, the Italian government had given Alfie citizenship, a hospital in Rome was willing to attempt to treat him, an air ambulance stood at the ready to take him to Rome, and they were all told to back off. A two-year-old child was left to die, because the hospital and the court decided that death was “in his best interest.”
This is a textbook example of what Pope St. John Paul II meant when he talked about the culture of death. Sadly, Alfie was not the first child to be offered up at the altar of the gods of death. Last summer, Charlie Gard was similarly deemed life unworthy of life. The eleven-month-old was similarly condemned to die. Despite popular outrage in both cases, not nearly enough people are horrified by the idea that a UK court can demand that a person be left to die. As calls for euthanizing the old and the terminally ill grow louder, it is important for our society to consider what our stance will toward the old and the weak. If that position includes the idea of “life unworthy of life”—however flowery the language concealing it might be—then we should but brace for the shutting of the jaws of Hell around us.
What can be done about this? First, the collective outrage at the grave injustice carried out in Alife’s case cannot die with him. The laws must change. Those who went out to protest the decisions concerning Alfie must make clear to their lawmakers that these situations cannot continue.
Second, those who cannot affect politics in the UK must help ensure that these same draconic laws are not instated anywhere else. A parent’s right to seek treatment for their child trump any rights of the state and—regardless—the state has no right to demand, enforce, or in any way impede anyone’s access to healthcare, provided that some qualified body is willing to provide that treatment.
Third, we should all make it clear that as our civilization seemingly approaches the dying of the light, we will not go gentle into that good night and that, whatever happens, we will never, never, never, give up. This attitude used to garner applause and respect not so long ago, and it is our duty to remind our culture of the value of that position.