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Thursday, August 18, 2022
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Say a prayer for Archie

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AS I write this, Archie Battersbee is still with us. God willing, he will be for a long time.

I want to make three points: one metaphysical, one ethical, one emotional. They are linked.

This child (and let’s be clear that he is an emissary of God, not some passive victim of hospital sheets) is said to be ‘brain dead’. What does that mean? What manner of assumption is factored into that horribly biological expression? 

The first assumption is this: that the soul is the same thing as the brain. Well, it isn’t. Greater thinkers than those who inhabit our current decision-making process (such as Descartes, Aristotle, Leibniz, Nagel; I could go on) would argue that there is a significant disjunction between the soul and the brain. That the ‘brain’ is dead does not imply that the soul is not alive.

I suppose the obvious reply to this would be: if you believe that the soul and the brain are not of intimate connection, then why worry that medical treatment is withdrawn? Why not let loose the soul?

The answer is this: because they are commingled, and the language of separation is not appropriate. They go together. That Archie’s brain is ‘dead’ does not imply that his soul should be let loose. And, in any case, our understanding of the human brain is very provisional. There are plenty of documented cases in which the human brain sparks back into life.

We don’t understand the operational complexity of the human brain, nor its purported connection to the human soul. So best we hang fire on that one?

The ethical problem is as follows. At some point a decision about Archie’s treatment must be made. Who gets to make that? The secular circus of contemporary orthodoxy, as mediated through our ghastly court system, or the people who know this little boy best? 

I suspect that Archie – like my own son – has the typical 12-year-old’s history of mischief: those things that were intensely annoying when they happened but which in retrospect come to present themselves as funny. And precious.

The mother who was once frustrated at her son’s failure to wash up the dishes has more insight into her son’s final needs that the distant legal nomenklatura.

The emotional point is this: we are at a tipping point in this country. The proper response is to be angry. The relationship between a mother and child should be inviolable. But we now have a government which thinks it acceptable to wipe its feet at the front door of a house in grief, and then cuckoo the house.

What happens to Archie is the business of Archie’s family. It’s of nobody else’s concern.

There is a reasonable reply to this. What would I do in that situation? A context of unimaginable emotional complexity. Would I insist that Archie be kept alive at incalculable cost to the public purse? My honest answer is that I do not know. I cannot insert myself into that situation, but I will respect the views of those who have found themselves there.

There are some who would argue – and I do get this – that it’s a form of cruelty to keep a child alive artificially. Cruel both to the child and the parents who have invested so much hope in that child’s range of possibilities and future.

My view is that the mother who changed the nappies knows her son with an intimacy which a judge should never aspire to. And that generates a form of objective truth.

Most people live their lives in shades of grey. We’re lucky in that way. Archie’s parents have been confronted by something else. Something very dark indeed.

They need our prayers. So, let’s offer them.  

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Sean Walsh
Sean Walsh
Sean Walsh is a writer.

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