Parents of sick British toddler return to court to fight for right to take him to Italy for treatment

LONDON — The parents of a terminally ill British toddler whose case has drawn support from Pope Francis plan to return to the Court of Appeal Wednesday in hope of winning the right to take him to Italy for treatment.

High Court Justice Anthony Hayden on Tuesday rejected what he said was the final appeal by the parents of 23-month-old Alfie Evans, who suffers from a degenerative neurological condition that has left him in a “semi-vegetative state.”

The judge said his ruling “represents the final chapter in the life of this extraordinary little boy.”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND – APRIL 13: Tom Evans, the father of terminally ill 23-month-old Alfie Evans, is embraced by a supporter after speaking to the media outside Alder Hey Hospital where Alfie is being cared for on April 13, 2018 in Liverpool, England. Tom Evans and Kate James the parents of Alfie are preparing a fresh request to Court of Appeal judges to allow 23-month-old Alfie Evans to continue to receive treatment at the Bambino Gesu hospital in Italy. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

But Alfie’s parents, who are backed by a Christian pressure group, have been granted a chance to challenge that ruling at the appeals court Wednesday afternoon.

The months-long legal battle between Alfie’s parents and his doctors has drawn interventions from the pope and Italian authorities, who support the parents’ desire to have their son treated at the Vatican’s children’s hospital.

Doctors from Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, where Alfie has been treated since December 2016, say he has little brain function and further treatment is futile. The toddler’s life support was withdrawn Monday after a series of court rulings blocked further medical treatment.

Alfie’s father Tom Evans said Alfie continued to survive with no assistance, and that doctors had subsequently resumed providing oxygen and hydration. On Wednesday he said Alfie was being given food again after 36 hours without it.

“Alfie is doing still as well as he can. He’s fighting,” Evans told ITV television.

The family’s lawyer claimed in court Tuesday that Alfie was doing “significantly better” than previously believed.

But the judge said “the sad truth” is that Alfie’s condition had not improved.

Doctors say it is hard to estimate how long Alfie will live without life support, but that there is no chance he will get better.

Under British law, it is common for courts to intervene when parents and doctors disagree on the treatment of a child. In such cases, the rights of the child take primacy over the parents’ right to decide what’s best for their offspring.

Alfie’s case has drawn international attention, with officials in largely Catholic Poland and Italy implicitly criticizing Britain’s courts and state-run National Health Service.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND – APRIL 24: General view of gifts left outside Alder Hey Children’s Hospital on April 24, 2018 in Liverpool, England. Earlier today, Tom Evans the father of seriously ill, 23-months-old, Alfie Evans has said his son is breathing unassisted after the toddler’s life support was turned off on Monday. Ventilation was withdrawn after Alfie’s parents lost the most recent appeal in a legal battle between his parents and health officials. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)

Polish President Andrzej Duda tweeted Wednesday that “Alfie Evans must be saved!”

“His brave little body has proved again that the miracle of life can be stronger than death,” the president wrote on Twitter. “Perhaps all that’s needed is some goodwill on the part of decision makers. Alfie, we pray for you and your recovery!”

Pope Francis has met Alfie’s father and made appeals for the boy’s parents’ wishes to be heeded, saying only God can decide who dies.

Italy has sent a military plane to Britain to transport Alfie to Rome if the courts allow it. Alfie has also been granted Italian citizenship to facilitate his arrival and transport.