Tafida: The Cult of Death and the Instinct of Compassion

Tafida Raqeeb, a child of just 5, has a grave illness that requires life-support. Her devoted parents, who love Tafida, rightly see it as their duty to give her the chance of a normal life if that is possible. They want to fly her from London to a children’s hospital in Genoa, where Italian doctors think they will be able to treat Tafida successfully.

Tafida Raqeeb – (image courtesy BBC)

However, the Health Trust that administers St Bartholomew’s Hospital, one of the world’s foremost teaching hospitals, is determined to prevent Tafida from being permitted to travel. It has applied to the High Court in London for permission to kill her by switching off her life-support.

The sheer wickedness of the Trust in bringing this court case, conducted at taxpayer’s expense – for Britain’s National Death Service is the largest employer in the world, with the possible exception of the Chinese Red Army – may be judged by the fact that had it not been for the court case, Tafida would already be in Italy.

There, the doctors who are confident that they can treat her would have examined her and would have begun treatment. Or, if nothing can be done, they would have gently, sorrowfully told her parents, whereupon whatever decision would be best for her would by now have been taken.

I must declare an interest. A distinguished endocrinologist at Barts is brilliantly treating me for a long illness, which had defeated all other attempts to alleviate it, and I now have no symptoms. Normally I should want to name him, but I do not suppose he would want to be dragged into this life-or-death question.

Therefore, I have the softest of soft spots for Barts. However, the bloodless bureaucrats who administer it are so dangerously out of touch not merely with morality 101, but also with common sense that they have inflicted upon Tafida and upon her grieving parents not only the strain of a court case but also precisely the delay in easing or ending her suffering that – whether the doctors in Italy are right or wrong in considering that she is treatable – they say it is their aim to prevent.

What is the Church’s teaching on Euthanasia?
As always with divine teaching, it is strikingly humane. It begins with a sternly-expressed overriding principle. The Second Vatican Council (Gaudium et Spes 27) condemns crimes against life, “such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or wilful suicide”.

In 1980 the Holy See, in response to enquiries from several Bishops’ Conferences, issued its remarkable Declaration on Euthanasia in 1980. The Declaration is a model of its kind: gently, compassionately authoritative.

First, “euthanasia” is defined as “some intervention of medicine whereby the suffering of sickness or of the final agony are reduced, sometimes also with the danger of suppressing life prematurely … By ‘euthanasia’ is understood an act or an omission which of itself or by intention causes death, in order that all suffering may in this way be eliminated.”

Next comes the principle: “It is necessary to state firmly once more that nothing and no one (not even the jaded mandarins of Bart’s Health Trust), can in any way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a foetus or an embryo, an infant or an adult, an old person, or one suffering from an incurable disease, or a person who is dying.

“Furthermore, no one is permitted to ask for this act of killing, either for himself or herself or for another person entrusted to his or her care, nor can he or she consent to it, either explicitly or implicitly, nor can any authority legitimately recommend or permit such action.”

But the real glory of this brilliant Declaration comes in its passionately compassionate consideration of precisely the sort of case that is Tafida’s – where modern medicine has advanced to the point where life can be prolonged indefinitely, even in defiance of the ancient moral principle that “one is never obliged to use ‘extraordinary’ means” to prolong life disproportionately.

The very first point in that masterly consideration is directly applicable to Tafida’s case: “If there are no other sufficient remedies, it is permitted, with the patient’s consent, to have recourse to the means provided by the most advanced medical techniques, even if these means are still at the experimental stage and are not without a certain risk. By accepting them, the patient can even show generosity in the service of humanity.”

The Declaration then says: “It is also permitted, with the patient’s consent, to interrupt these means, where the results fall short of expectations. But for such a decision to be made, account will have to be taken of the reasonable wishes of the patient and the patient’s family, as also of the doctors who are specially competent in the matter. …

“When inevitable death is imminent in spite of the means used, it is permitted in conscience to take the decision to refuse forms of treatment that would only secure a precarious and burdensome prolongation of life, so long as the normal care due to the sick person in similar cases is not interrupted.”

Where is the Heartfelt Charity?
And a final barb directed at the likes of Bart’s Health Trust: “As for those who work in the medical profession, they ought to neglect no means of making all their skill available to the sick and dying, but they should also remember how much more necessary it is to provide them with the comfort of boundless kindness and heartfelt charity.”

Where is the “heartfelt charity” in delaying – indeed, in denying outright – Tafida’s last hope of a pain-free life? The Trust might have had some sort of an argument, though not a strong one, if it had said it was so sure the Italian doctors would fail that subjecting Tafida to the delay caused by their investigations would disproportionately prolong her agony.

Instead, the Trust has itself prolonged Tafida’s agony by the mere fact of its having launched this malevolent court case against her desperate parents.

And why? Because the good and gentle Christian morality that once prevailed in public policy throughout what was called Christendom – the morality that is spelt out with such clarity and authority, divinity and humanity, vigour and gentleness in the Holy See’s Declaration on Euthanasia – no longer holds sway in the once-Christian West.

No small part of morality is common sense. Where is the sense in prolonging Tafida’s agony with a court case whose stated purpose was to prevent that very prolongation?

On October 3rd, Mr Justice MacDonald ruled that Tafida Raqeeb can be transferred to the Gaslini hospital in Genoa, according to what her parents want.