The parents of Alfie Evans met earlier today with hospital officials in an effort to get the 23-month-old released into their home care. It apparently didn’t go well. Tom Evans asked Pope Francis to come to the UK to free the child at the center of a political, medical, and moral firestorm, claiming that Alder Hey Hospital was holding his son “hostage”:

Alfie Evans’ father has appealed to Pope Francis to travel to Liverpool to see the plight of his son who he claims is being held hostage at Alder Hey hospital.

Tom Evans, who has been at the centre of a bitter legal dispute with the hospital, told the Catholic channel TV2000 on Thursday: “I call on the pope to come here to see what is happening.

“Come here and see how my son is the hostage of this hospital. What we are enduring is not right.”

Hyperbole? Yes, but understandable from a grief-stricken father trapped in a system that pays little heed to parental wishes. Earlier, Evans tried to sound reasonable before meeting with the hospital:

Imagine having to go to a hospital in a case where no abuse or neglect has been alleged, let alone imagined, and having to bargain for the release of your own child. Now imagine that added to the knowledge that the hospital’s plan for your child is to neglect him to death, even though he has been breathing on his own for three days straight, and when other medical facilities are volunteering to offer treatment or at least palliative care for as long as the child still lives.

Unimaginable, right? That’s the nightmare in which the Evans’ find themselves. Even if one credits the hospital with the best of intentions, their refusal to bend at all to parental direction is utterly mystifying. And that goes even more for the courts who won’t allow the parents to take the child to a well-known and well-regarded hospital that wants to see if they can do anything for the child, who’s currently fighting to stay alive.

From the outside, hostage might seem too harsh a word. From the inside … I’d be hard pressed to come up with another word. And it might be tough not to take it as personally as Evans does, too:

Evans picked up some celebrity support earlier today for his bid to bring his own child home:

Now Good Morning Britain presenter Piers Morgan has backed the case for the ill toddler to live out his final days at home.

The 53-year-old wrote on Twitter: “Let. Them. Take. Him. Home. #AlfieEvans.”

Piers previously backed the call for Alfie to be taken home earlier this week and had commented: “At least let his parents take him home to die, for goodness sake. He’s THEIR little boy, nobody else’s. #AlfieEvans.”

That’s the point that appears to have gotten lost.

Evans’ understandable anger and arguable hyperbole has stirred up unrest in the UK, to the point that their media has focused on threats against Alder Hey and medical personnel. The Independent reported on “guerrilla warfare tactics” by supporters of the Evans’, and The Sun reports that nurses are being advised to “hide their uniforms” when out in public for fear of reprisals. Threats and invective toward hospital personnel is both unacceptable in any circumstance and deeply unhelpful to the Evans’ in particular, and law enforcement has a legitimate role in interdicting such threats. The police’s warnings about investigating “malicious communications” as well as “threatening behaviour” looks like an equally bad overreaction, however.

Guy Benson wonders after this and several other cases of authoritarian responses: can we still describe the UK as a free country?

While the Brits remain — and should remain — our close friends, and while our national interests still align in many ways, I cannot help but look on with sadness and occasional revulsion as the British State increasingly seems to regard and treat its citizens as subjects.

The people of the UK are still able to elect their leaders and impose dramatic changes, of course, so it would be a gross overstatement to liken their government (as some critics have) to a totalitarian regime. But a string of recent stories and incidents have raised serious fears in my mind about whether Great Britain is becoming something other than — something less than — a truly free country. …

As you contemplate my original question, also mull over this parting thought: If you were a family friend or relative of Alfie Evans today, you would be liable to be charged and prosecuted for too “abusively” objecting to his treatment (or lack thereof), or for quoting lyrics in his memory on social media that may be deemed unsuitable by some unaccountable tribunal. Doing either of those things would place you in far graver legal danger than any bureaucrat or magistrate who ordered Mr. and Mrs. Evans to remain in Great Britain until their son has perished, compelling them to forego privately-funded medical opportunities elsewhere. How deeply, astoundingly, enragingly perverse. Free people have a general sense of what freedom looks like, and that isn’t it.

Ask Tom Evans if he feels as though he still lives in a free country. Will the answer be hyperbolic … or just accurate?

Update: On the other hand, maybe “hostage” isn’t at all hyperbolic. Good Lord.