John Grisham’s acclaimed novel, A Time to Kill, climaxes with one of the most dramatic and animated closing arguments in legal fiction.
A 12-year-old black girl is raped and beaten by two white supremacists. Her father kills both men with an M16. A white attorney is defending the girl’s African-American father.
He says to the jury: ‘Now I wanna tell you a story. I’m gonna ask ya’all to close your eyes while I tell you this story.’ Jake Brigance, the attorney, proceeds to paint a graphic picture of the rape, humiliation and hanging of the little black girl to a packed courtroom.
‘Can you see her? Her raped, beaten, broken body, soaked in their urine, soaked in their semen, soaked in her blood – left to die,’ each word stabbing the heart of each juror, his voice soaring to an impassioned crescendo.
‘Can you see her? I want you to picture that little girl. Now imagine she’s white. The defence rests, Your Honour.’ Brigance’s variation on the argumentum ad misericordiam stuns judge, jury and viewers, and he wins the case. Grisham, however, is going beyond the appeal to pity. ‘What would you do if she were your daughter?’ he is asking his white audience in the setting of a racially charged American South.
‘Can you see her? I want you to picture that little girl. Now imagine she’s white.’
Now I ask you to imagine a little boy dying of a rare degenerative brain disorder in Britain. His parents are moving heaven and earth to save him. The hospital and doctors decide against the parents’ wishes to end his life because there is no point in trying to save such a hopeless case. His parents knock at the doors of every court in the land until their knuckles bleed. The courts rule that the doctors should let Alfie Evans die.
Pope Francis intervenes and the Bambino Gesu hospital in Rome throws open its doors welcoming Alfie after Alder Hey tells his parents they are turning off his ventilator. Alfie is even granted Italian citizenship. But the Supreme Court slams its doors and prohibits Alfie’s parents from moving him to Italy.
Can you see him? I want you to picture that little boy. Meanwhile, his parents say they are keeping the 23-month-old alive by mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Now imagine Alfie Evans is your son.
The prophet Isaiah asks the rhetorical question: ‘Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?’ Hold on. John Pearson was born with Down’s syndrome. When his mother was given the news of his condition, she reportedly told her husband, ‘I don’t want it, Duck.’ Dr Leonard Arthur gave instructions that the child was to be sedated with a painkiller and given water but no food. John died 69 hours after birth and Dr Arthur was charged with murder. Isaiah would have a hard time understanding how some mothers in the 21st century can let their children die, born or unborn.
Some parents might still want to their baby to die. But how would the highest court in the land rule if the child in question was Prince Alfie? In the same week that Alfie Evans was sentenced to death, the Duchess of Cambridge gave birth to her third child.
I want you to picture that little boy. Now imagine Alfie Evans is your son.
This is a moment of rejoicing for the whole nation. Nevertheless, some voices have asked whether most ordinary Brits could afford to have three children in today’s financial climate. Can you see them? I want you to picture an ordinary British family with three children!
Thank God, Prince William and Princess Kate have three healthy children. But if, God forbid, one of them was dying of a rare undiagnosed disorder, would the doctors at a British hospital specialising in the treatment of children insist on turning off life-support sustaining the little Prince or Princess?
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who love their children like most parents, would no doubt seek medical intervention from the best paediatric hospitals in the world. Would William and Kate have to resort to habeas corpus to argue that requiring a court to prove that a detainee – Prince Alfie, in this case – is being lawfully held captive?
Would the courts treat Prince William and Princess Kate the same as they are treating Tom Evans and Kate James, the parents of Alfie? I can’t say for sure, but I suspect we all know the answer.
The first chapter of the book of Genesis insists that God’s image and likeness is stamped on every human being. The creation narrative is an attempt to subvert other contemporary creation myths, which said that only the king was created in God’s image and likeness. Because the king could not be everywhere, he erected images and likenesses of himself in every town and province.
Genesis is turning this on its head and reminding us that every human being is royalty – created as God’s image and likeness and as a steward of creation. Prince George, Princess Charlotte and their newborn brother are royalty – created in God’s image and likeness. Alfie Evans is also a royal baby – created in God’s image and likeness. Every royal baby deserves a life sentence, not a death sentence.
The defence rests, Your Honour.