On Monday a hospitalized British child at the center of a heated legal battle was granted Italian citizenship, part of an effort to delay shutting off his life-support, and to transfer him to a Roman hospital for additional treatment and medical evaluation.
Two-year-old Alfie Evans suffers from an unidentified degenerative neurological condition and has been under continuous hospitalization since December 2016.
On Monday the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) refused to intervene in what has been a highly sensitive and complicated case, paving the way for Alder Hey Children's Hospital, where Evans has been receiving care, to shut off the infant's life support.
After receiving the ruling from the ECHR Monday morning, the hospital scheduled Evans to be taken off life support later that day. However, according to Italian daily Avvenire, the official newspaper of the Italian bishops, Evans' parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, were able to receive a last minute delay in order to clarify an aspect of the sentence.
Crowds of protesters lined the streets in front of the hospital Monday as they waited for the ruling, while Tom sent intermittent Facebook live posts from inside the hospital.
According to the BBC, some 200 protesters attempted to storm the hospital at one point, but were stopped by police, and backed off to the opposite side of the road.
In the meantime, Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano and Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti granted citizenship to Evans, in hopes that being an Italian citizen will allow the infant to be transferred to Italy immediately.
The decision comes less than one week after Alfie's father, Tom, came to the Vatican to make a personal appeal to Pope Francis on his son's behalf. In a private audience with the pope before his Wednesday general audience April 18, Tom Evans plead for asylum in Italy for his family, so that Alfie can be moved to the Bambino Gesu hospital in Rome to receive treatment.
Pope Francis has made several appeals for Alfie, asking in his April 15 Regina Coeli address for people to pray for Alfie and others “who live, at times for a long period, in a serious state of illness, medically assisted for their basic needs.”
The pope also recently tweeted about Alfie, saying it was his “sincere hope that everything necessary may be done in order to continue compassionately accompanying little Alfie Evans, and that the deep suffering of his parents may be heard.”
Debate surrounding the case flared up when in February the court ruled that Alder Hey Children's Hospital could legally stop treatment for Alfie against his parent’s wishes. The hospital has argued that continuing treatment is not in his best interest.
Despite Tom and Kate's desire to take their son to Bambino Gesu hospital in Rome, several judges ruled in the hospital's favor. The case has since drawn international attention.