Alfie Evans is dead. The 23-month-old boy died Saturday morning at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, England, five days after his life support was removed on orders from the United Kingdom’s High Court. There is no other way to understand the boy’s death than to say that the government of the United Kingdom decided he must die—against the wishes of his parents and against the pleas of the Vatican, the governments of Italy and Poland, and countless supporters throughout the world.
Together with the death of Charlie Gard last year, whom British authorities would not allow to be taken to the United States for an experimental treatment, Evans’ death seems to confirm British policy in such matters: children belong to the state, and when the state decides that they should die, they will die.
Extraordinary international efforts were undertaken to save the boy’s life. Italy, which granted Evans citizenship, kept a specially equipped plane from the Italian defense ministry on standby to transport the boy to a Vatican hospital in case the U.K. courts ordered his release. Pope Francis issued a personal appeal to British authorities and met with the parents. None of it made any difference in the end.
Given the facts of the case, it is hard to see what purpose was served by Evans’ death other than to demonstrate, before a gaping world, the unquestioned power of the United Kingdom over its subjects.
‘The Object Of Power Is Power’
In that way, the boy’s death illustrates, in horrifying detail, the cold logic of the mature welfare state. The purpose of the welfare state is to exercise power over its subjects—and make no mistake, they are subjects, not citizens—and that’s it. Nothing more and nothing less.
That power is not exercised for anyone’s good, or for the good of the people at large, or even for some collective goal. It is exercised for its own sake. “Power is not a means; it is an end,” says O’Brien, the party official in George Orwell’s “1984,” as he tortures Winston. “One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.”
Of course, no government, not even a brutal dictatorship like the North Korean regime (or the fictional regime of Oceania in “1984”), would ever come out and publicly admit that its entire raison d’être is to exercise unchecked power over its subjects. Such governments always justify their exercise of power in positive terms: security and safety, victory over a common enemy, economic prosperity, health and well-being.
Health and well-being are especially potent justifications for the welfare state’s use of power because they’re directly connected to the larger justification of the regime: welfare. The state wants you to be healthy, so it will set up a national health service. The state wants what is good for you, so it will compel you to participate in the national health service. The state is looking out for your best interests, even if you are not, so it will empower the national health service to make decisions for you and your children, against your will, if necessary.
Sometimes, in extreme cases, the national health service will decide that what is in your best interests is to die.
From Alfie Evans to Involuntary Euthanasia
Obviously, this makes no sense. But the brazen illogic of the state insisting that it is in your own best interests if you cease to exist serves the overarching logic of the welfare state, which is power. When the national health service decides, for instance, that your sick child must be allowed to die because it is in the child’s best interests, what it really means—but is not quite willing to say outright—is that is in the best interests of the state that your child be allowed to die.
We do not have to speculate about this because it has been happening for some time in Europe, where in some countries euthanasia is commonplace. In Belgium and Holland, the elderly and infirm are sometimes killed without their consent. Children as young as twelve can be euthanized in Holland, with parental consent. In Belgium, children of any age can be euthanized if they are terminally ill.
The most outlandish rationalizations are put forward for these killings. Holland allows euthanasia for those who are neither terminally or mentally ill but are merely “tired of life.” Some patients need not even give consent before they are killed. One study found that in Belgium, nearly a third of all euthanasia deaths occurred without the patient’s request or consent. Most of those euthanized were comatose, but in 8 percent of those cases the physicians said “discussing it with the patient would have been harmful to that patient.”
Any state that asserts such a nonsensical justification for euthanasia or denial of medical care will, in time, be free to apply it to any class of people it chooses—not just the elderly and infirm but also the disabled and the sick, the addicted and mentally ill, perhaps even the poor and destitute.
All of this can be done for what sound like reasonable, even compassionate motivations, like relieving a person of unbearable and incurable suffering—even if the suffering is only mental or psychological, as was the case with a perfectly healthy 29-year-old Dutch woman who earlier this year requested to be killed and was obliged by state doctors.
But of course when it comes to life and death, reasonable and compassionate motives are beyond the ken of physicians and bureaucrats and high courts. As C.S. Lewis wrote in a 1958 essay entitled, “Willing Slaves of the Welfare State,” specialists in power are acting outside their area of expertise: “Let scientists tell us about sciences. But government involves questions about the good for man, and justice, and what things are worth having at what price; and on these a scientific training gives a man’s opinion no added value. Let the doctor tell me I shall die unless I do so-and-so; but whether life is worth having on those terms is no more a question for him than for any other man.”