Parents of sick toddler Alfie Evans make new court challenge

The mother of a terminally ill British toddler whose case has drawn support from Pope Francis said Wednesday that the child is "struggling" and needs immediate intervention if he is to survive much longer.

A lawyer for Alfie Evans' mother Kate James told three Court of Appeal judges that James hoped the courts would "invite the hospital to take the appropriate steps."

The 23-month-old boy suffers from a degenerative neurological condition that has left him in a "semi-vegetative state." Doctors treating him at Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool have said further treatment is futile, and the toddler's life support was withdrawn Monday after a series of court rulings sided with the doctors and blocked further medical treatment.

Nonetheless, Alfie's parents want to take him to Italy to be cared for at the Vatican's children's hospital.

High Court Justice Anthony Hayden on Tuesday rejected the parents' latest appeal, and said his ruling represented "the final chapter in the life of this extraordinary little boy." The parents' lawyers went to court Wednesday to try to overturn that decision.

The months-long legal battle between Alfie's parents, backed by a Christian pressure group, and his doctors has drawn interventions from the pope and Italian authorities, who support the parents' desire to have their son treated in Italy.

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.

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.