Tag Archives: Help

How sex toys are being redesigned to help survivors of sexual assault

For many survivors of sexual assault, a happy sex life feels out of reach. While much of the treatment on offer is focused on emotional and psychological healing, people are often left to work out for themselves what sex after trauma looks like for them.

But some people are working to change that, and are reconfiguring and reappropriating sex toys as tools for healing. Last year, the Dutch designer Nienke Helder created a range of objects to help survivors reprogramme how they deal with physical sensations. Drawing on her own experience, she wanted to redress what she saw as the “clinical” approach to recovery currently employed. “The tools are an opportunity to explore your personal sexual recovery,” she says. Her collection, titled Sexual Healing, includes a horsehair brush to explore touch and tickling, a mirror designed to help you better view your vulva, as well as a pelvic device that vibrates when your muscles are too tense, and a bean-shaped sensor that lights up if you’re breathing too fast, to remind you to slow down and relax. “By getting biofeedback through the tools, you can visualise what kind of processes are happening inside your body, which can help you understand in which situations your body reacts with a reflex.”

A Sexual Healing prototype by Neinke Helder.


A Sexual Healing prototype by Neinke Helder. Photograph: Nicole Marnati

Although Helder’s designs are still prototypes (she hopes to get them manufactured and sold soon), there are places where survivors can go to find existing tools. Sh! Women’s Erotic Emporium in east London is a female-focused sex shop with an extensive education and outreach programme. It consults with the NHS to recommend products for women who have been through trauma. “Unfortunately, many health professionals are still not comfortable talking about sex,” says Renée Denyer, the shop’s manager and in-house sex educator. She is also a facilitator for Cafe V, part of My Body Back Project, a support group for women who have experienced sexual violence. “For survivors of sexual assault and rape, their body is taken away from them. But when women are ready to start thinking about sex, after they’ve had therapy and counselling, there is nowhere to go, so we made that space.”

According to Denyer, using sex toys is a powerful way for survivors to reclaim their body. “Especially for those who experienced abuse from childhood, they very early on learned to tune out when any sort of sexual touch is happening,” she says. “Even later in life when they are with a chosen partner, they’ll dissociate because that’s what they’ve been conditioned to do. We work on trying to fix that.”

Many of the recommended products focus on non-fleshy, non-phallic and non-penetrative tools, whilst also encouraging the use of things such as flavoured lube so survivors are not triggered by the smell of genitalia. But it seems that the most important thing is to grant women permission to explore sex again in a healthy way, in a safe environment and without the time or physical pressure that can come with having sex with a partner.

Though there is still a long way to go to improve the recovery process, using a more sex-positive approach is bringing ​many survivors one step closer to a happy sex life​.

How sex toys are being redesigned to help survivors of sexual assault

For many survivors of sexual assault, a happy sex life feels out of reach. While much of the treatment on offer is focused on emotional and psychological healing, people are often left to work out for themselves what sex after trauma looks like for them.

But some people are working to change that, and are reconfiguring and reappropriating sex toys as tools for healing. Last year, the Dutch designer Nienke Helder created a range of objects to help survivors reprogramme how they deal with physical sensations. Drawing on her own experience, she wanted to redress what she saw as the “clinical” approach to recovery currently employed. “The tools are an opportunity to explore your personal sexual recovery,” she says. Her collection, titled Sexual Healing, includes a horsehair brush to explore touch and tickling, a mirror designed to help you better view your vulva, as well as a pelvic device that vibrates when your muscles are too tense, and a bean-shaped sensor that lights up if you’re breathing too fast, to remind you to slow down and relax. “By getting biofeedback through the tools, you can visualise what kind of processes are happening inside your body, which can help you understand in which situations your body reacts with a reflex.”

A Sexual Healing prototype by Neinke Helder.


A Sexual Healing prototype by Neinke Helder. Photograph: Nicole Marnati

Although Helder’s designs are still prototypes (she hopes to get them manufactured and sold soon), there are places where survivors can go to find existing tools. Sh! Women’s Erotic Emporium in east London is a female-focused sex shop with an extensive education and outreach programme. It consults with the NHS to recommend products for women who have been through trauma. “Unfortunately, many health professionals are still not comfortable talking about sex,” says Renée Denyer, the shop’s manager and in-house sex educator. She is also a facilitator for Cafe V, part of My Body Back Project, a support group for women who have experienced sexual violence. “For survivors of sexual assault and rape, their body is taken away from them. But when women are ready to start thinking about sex, after they’ve had therapy and counselling, there is nowhere to go, so we made that space.”

According to Denyer, using sex toys is a powerful way for survivors to reclaim their body. “Especially for those who experienced abuse from childhood, they very early on learned to tune out when any sort of sexual touch is happening,” she says. “Even later in life when they are with a chosen partner, they’ll dissociate because that’s what they’ve been conditioned to do. We work on trying to fix that.”

Many of the recommended products focus on non-fleshy, non-phallic and non-penetrative tools, whilst also encouraging the use of things such as flavoured lube so survivors are not triggered by the smell of genitalia. But it seems that the most important thing is to grant women permission to explore sex again in a healthy way, in a safe environment and without the time or physical pressure that can come with having sex with a partner.

Though there is still a long way to go to improve the recovery process, using a more sex-positive approach is bringing ​many survivors one step closer to a happy sex life​.

How sex toys are being redesigned to help survivors of sexual assault

For many survivors of sexual assault, a happy sex life feels out of reach. While much of the treatment on offer is focused on emotional and psychological healing, people are often left to work out for themselves what sex after trauma looks like for them.

But some people are working to change that, and are reconfiguring and reappropriating sex toys as tools for healing. Last year, the Dutch designer Nienke Helder created a range of objects to help survivors reprogramme how they deal with physical sensations. Drawing on her own experience, she wanted to redress what she saw as the “clinical” approach to recovery currently employed. “The tools are an opportunity to explore your personal sexual recovery,” she says. Her collection, titled Sexual Healing, includes a horsehair brush to explore touch and tickling, a mirror designed to help you better view your vulva, as well as a pelvic device that vibrates when your muscles are too tense, and a bean-shaped sensor that lights up if you’re breathing too fast, to remind you to slow down and relax. “By getting biofeedback through the tools, you can visualise what kind of processes are happening inside your body, which can help you understand in which situations your body reacts with a reflex.”

A Sexual Healing prototype by Neinke Helder.


A Sexual Healing prototype by Neinke Helder. Photograph: Nicole Marnati

Although Helder’s designs are still prototypes (she hopes to get them manufactured and sold soon), there are places where survivors can go to find existing tools. Sh! Women’s Erotic Emporium in east London is a female-focused sex shop with an extensive education and outreach programme. It consults with the NHS to recommend products for women who have been through trauma. “Unfortunately, many health professionals are still not comfortable talking about sex,” says Renée Denyer, the shop’s manager and in-house sex educator. She is also a facilitator for Cafe V, part of My Body Back Project, a support group for women who have experienced sexual violence. “For survivors of sexual assault and rape, their body is taken away from them. But when women are ready to start thinking about sex, after they’ve had therapy and counselling, there is nowhere to go, so we made that space.”

According to Denyer, using sex toys is a powerful way for survivors to reclaim their body. “Especially for those who experienced abuse from childhood, they very early on learned to tune out when any sort of sexual touch is happening,” she says. “Even later in life when they are with a chosen partner, they’ll dissociate because that’s what they’ve been conditioned to do. We work on trying to fix that.”

Many of the recommended products focus on non-fleshy, non-phallic and non-penetrative tools, whilst also encouraging the use of things such as flavoured lube so survivors are not triggered by the smell of genitalia. But it seems that the most important thing is to grant women permission to explore sex again in a healthy way, in a safe environment and without the time or physical pressure that can come with having sex with a partner.

Though there is still a long way to go to improve the recovery process, using a more sex-positive approach is bringing ​many survivors one step closer to a happy sex life​.

How sex toys are being redesigned to help survivors of sexual assault

For many survivors of sexual assault, a happy sex life feels out of reach. While much of the treatment on offer is focused on emotional and psychological healing, people are often left to work out for themselves what sex after trauma looks like for them.

But some people are working to change that, and are reconfiguring and reappropriating sex toys as tools for healing. Last year, the Dutch designer Nienke Helder created a range of objects to help survivors reprogramme how they deal with physical sensations. Drawing on her own experience, she wanted to redress what she saw as the “clinical” approach to recovery currently employed. “The tools are an opportunity to explore your personal sexual recovery,” she says. Her collection, titled Sexual Healing, includes a horsehair brush to explore touch and tickling, a mirror designed to help you better view your vulva, as well as a pelvic device that vibrates when your muscles are too tense, and a bean-shaped sensor that lights up if you’re breathing too fast, to remind you to slow down and relax. “By getting biofeedback through the tools, you can visualise what kind of processes are happening inside your body, which can help you understand in which situations your body reacts with a reflex.”

A Sexual Healing prototype by Neinke Helder.


A Sexual Healing prototype by Neinke Helder. Photograph: Nicole Marnati

Although Helder’s designs are still prototypes (she hopes to get them manufactured and sold soon), there are places where survivors can go to find existing tools. Sh! Women’s Erotic Emporium in east London is a female-focused sex shop with an extensive education and outreach programme. It consults with the NHS to recommend products for women who have been through trauma. “Unfortunately, many health professionals are still not comfortable talking about sex,” says Renée Denyer, the shop’s manager and in-house sex educator. She is also a facilitator for Cafe V, part of My Body Back Project, a support group for women who have experienced sexual violence. “For survivors of sexual assault and rape, their body is taken away from them. But when women are ready to start thinking about sex, after they’ve had therapy and counselling, there is nowhere to go, so we made that space.”

According to Denyer, using sex toys is a powerful way for survivors to reclaim their body. “Especially for those who experienced abuse from childhood, they very early on learned to tune out when any sort of sexual touch is happening,” she says. “Even later in life when they are with a chosen partner, they’ll dissociate because that’s what they’ve been conditioned to do. We work on trying to fix that.”

Many of the recommended products focus on non-fleshy, non-phallic and non-penetrative tools, whilst also encouraging the use of things such as flavoured lube so survivors are not triggered by the smell of genitalia. But it seems that the most important thing is to grant women permission to explore sex again in a healthy way, in a safe environment and without the time or physical pressure that can come with having sex with a partner.

Though there is still a long way to go to improve the recovery process, using a more sex-positive approach is bringing ​many survivors one step closer to a happy sex life​.

Some children reach brink of suicide before getting help with mental health, charity warns

Britain is confronting a mental health crisis because resources for children are so stretched that some only receive help if they seriously self-harm or attempt suicide, Barnardo’s has warned.

Javed Khan, chief executive of Britain’s largest children’s charity, said that young people’s mental health had never been worse in the organisation’s 152-year history. Radical action was needed, he said, because funding cuts had forced charities to abandon vital services.

“It’s never been as bad, and in another five years’ time it’s going to be even more complex,” Khan told the Observer. “This mental health crisis is getting more severe and more difficult by the day. The numbers keep going up. Educational psychologists are pulling their hair out – they haven’t got the resources. They can’t respond as fast as they need to.

“We are going to regret this period if this goes on for too long. We are going to rue the day when we took our eye off the ball.”

Neera Sharma, assistant director of policy at Barnardo’s, said that in some parts of the country the pressure on resources was so severe that only the most extreme cases received help. “The threshold is suicidal in some cases; the child would have had to have attempted suicide or committed serious self-harm to get a response,” Sharma said.

Speaking before Barnardo’s annual lecture this Wednesday, where representatives of Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, will be among the audience, Khan urged the government to adopt a dramatic new approach.

The lack of resources has forced the charity to walk away from 1,033 contracts during the past year because the money available to local authorities meant it could not offer a sufficient service, Khan said. “They are tightening their belt to a point they cannot tighten it any more. They are asking for more to be delivered for far less resources than ever before, and there is a tipping point where you just can’t deliver a safe, high-quality service,” said Khan, who is also a member of the advisory board for the children’s commissioner for England.

One way the government could save money would be to scrap the traditional tendering process in favour of a more collaborative approach between the state and charities: “I don’t think the tendering model is sustainable – there aren’t enough resources in the system,” said Khan.

The latest on the UK’s mental health problem emerged on Thursday when statistics showed that almost one in five children could be at risk of having mental health issues later in life, according to the study of more than 850,000 seven-to-14-year-olds.

Figures from NHS trusts in England in November revealed that 60% of children and young people referred for specialist care by their GP were not receiving treatment. In December the government published a green paper on mental health problems but Khan said that the plans lacked ambition, falling significantly short of what he felt was required.

“If you analyse it, then three-quarters of children are going to get no support,” he said. “The response is insufficient, it’s not broad enough, there is limited financial detail. It talks about rolling out a number of initiatives in a number of areas but funding is only secured to these areas until 2023. The prime minister has talked about this issue as a burning injustice but we don’t think the action is matching the rhetoric.”

Last month Hunt intervened in the debate to condemn social media companies for “turning a blind eye” to mental health damage suffered by children who have uncontrolled access to their online platform.

Khan said social media was an issue – comparing new technology to “allowing a film crew into the bedroom” – and that they were also liaising directly with companies such as Google and Facebook to limit potential harm to young people.

In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org

Children denied help with mental health unless they attempt suicide

Britain is confronting a mental health crisis because resources for children are so stretched that some only receive help if they seriously self-harm or attempt suicide, Barnardo’s has warned.

Javed Khan, chief executive of Britain’s largest children’s charity, said that young people’s mental health had never been worse in the organisation’s 152-year history. Radical action was needed, he said, because funding cuts had forced charities to abandon vital services.

“It’s never been as bad, and in another five years’ time it’s going to be even more complex,” Khan told the Observer. “This mental health crisis is getting more severe and more difficult by the day. The numbers keep going up. Educational psychologists are pulling their hair out – they haven’t got the resources. They can’t respond as fast as they need to.

“We are going to regret this period if this goes on for too long. We are going to rue the day when we took our eye off the ball.”

Neera Sharma, assistant director of policy at Barnardo’s, said that in some parts of the country the pressure on resources was so severe that only the most extreme cases received help. “The threshold is suicidal in some cases; the child would have had to have attempted suicide or committed serious self-harm to get a response,” Sharma said.

Speaking before Barnardo’s annual lecture this Wednesday, where representatives of Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, will be among the audience, Khan urged the government to adopt a dramatic new approach.

The lack of resources has forced the charity to walk away from 1,033 contracts during the past year because the money available to local authorities meant it could not offer a sufficient service, Khan said. “They are tightening their belt to a point they cannot tighten it any more. They are asking for more to be delivered for far less resources than ever before, and there is a tipping point where you just can’t deliver a safe, high-quality service,” said Khan, who is also a member of the advisory board for the children’s commissioner for England.

One way the government could save money would be to scrap the traditional tendering process in favour of a more collaborative approach between the state and charities: “I don’t think the tendering model is sustainable – there aren’t enough resources in the system,” said Khan.

The latest on the UK’s mental health problem emerged on Thursday when statistics showed that almost one in five children could be at risk of having mental health issues later in life, according to the study of more than 850,000 seven-to-14-year-olds.

Figures from NHS trusts in England in November revealed that 60% of children and young people referred for specialist care by their GP were not receiving treatment. In December the government published a green paper on mental health problems but Khan said that the plans lacked ambition, falling significantly short of what he felt was required.

“If you analyse it, then three-quarters of children are going to get no support,” he said. “The response is insufficient, it’s not broad enough, there is limited financial detail. It talks about rolling out a number of initiatives in a number of areas but funding is only secured to these areas until 2023. The prime minister has talked about this issue as a burning injustice but we don’t think the action is matching the rhetoric.”

Last month Hunt intervened in the debate to condemn social media companies for “turning a blind eye” to mental health damage suffered by children who have uncontrolled access to their online platform.

Khan said social media was an issue – comparing new technology to “allowing a film crew into the bedroom” – and that they were also liaising directly with companies such as Google and Facebook to limit potential harm to young people.

In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org

Alfie Evans’ parents needed help. The vultures came instead | Gaby Hinsliff

Fanatical. Deluded. Emotive nonsense. These are unusually strong terms for a judge to use, particularly in a case as intensely sad and bitterly contested as that of the terminally ill child Alfie Evans. Yet Mr Justice Hayden, referring to some of the campaigners now surrounding Alfie’s parents, did not mince his words, after this most hellish of ethical dilemmas ended this week in a court ruling that the child’s ventilator be switched off against the family’s wishes.

The judge was careful not to attach blame to Tom Evans and Kate James, who cannot accept the settled view of their son’s doctors that his brain has been damaged catastrophically by an as yet undiagnosed condition, or that the intensive treatment required to keep him alive is no longer in his best interest and may be causing him suffering.

Alfie’s parents have fought like tigers both in and out of court and no parent – even those whose sympathies in this case are with the doctors facing death threats for doing what they honestly believe is the right thing – will begrudge the family their right to clutch in their grief at every straw there is.

But the high court judge is surely right to question the motives of some of those extending straws. The most disturbing aspect of this case is the sense that it is now being exploited by those who see Alfie not as a desperately sick little boy, but as an expedient means of advancing their own ideological cause.

That description doesn’t just apply to the pro-life movement, of course. Among Alfie’s viscerally engaged army of Facebook supporters, which includes many parents of small children, you will find anti-vaxxers using the story to peddle utterly deluded junk science theories about the Vitamin K injection every newborn gets. You’ll find American gun lobby enthusiasts ranting on about how this is what happens when “the government” runs people’s lives and that’s why everyone needs to keep hold of their weapons; never mind that this decision has nothing to do with the government, resting as it does on the independent judgment of doctors upheld by an independent judiciary.

Others have sought to use the case to score cheap, wildly inaccurate points over healthcare reform in the US; to claim this is where “socialised medicine” gets you, when without the NHS and its daily miracle of providing treatment free at the point of use, Alfie’s parents would now be struggling with medical bills running into the millions.

And where far-right conspiracy sites such as Infowars and Breitbart rush in, an army of trolls inevitably follows. Staff at Alder Hey children’s hospital have experienced a horrific barrage of death threats and other online abuse. There have been ugly scenes at the hospital too, reports of over-zealous protesters blocking ambulances or intimidating visitors and patients. It is all too uncomfortably reminiscent of those who harass pregnant women outside abortion clinics and threaten to kill doctors offering terminations, so high on their self-righteous mission to save that all other human lives cease to matter.

Alfie’s parents, Tom Evans and Kate James.


Alfie’s parents, Tom Evans and Kate James. Photograph: Philip Toscano/PA

But none of that is quite what the judge meant. His concern centres specifically on the way the Evans family has been taken under the wing of a hitherto little-known evangelical group called the Christian Legal Centre, which has supplied the parents with a barrister and, somewhat dubiously, the services of a law student named Pavel Stroilov. A statement drafted for Alfie’s father was, according to Hayden, loaded with “vituperation and bile” against the hospital, which had not helped the baby’s case. At one point, Stroilov apparently became party to an attempt by Alfie’s father to have the doctors prosecuted for murder.

The family’s former solicitor Mary Holmes has accused activists of seeking to “keep this child alive at any costs and not for the right reasons”, using the case to raise their profile with interventions such as securing Tom Evans an audience with the pope. Most seriously, Stroilov stands accused of giving Evans inaccurate advice in a letter stating that he had the legal right to remove his son from the hospital, despite a court order to the contrary, causing an understandably emotional standoff between the parents and the hospital when it became clear that was not the case. What is compassionate or Christian about giving a desperate man false hope?

The judge’s objection to an outpouring of what he called “emotive nonsense” in his courtroom is not to be confused with heartlessness. Rather, it is a recognition that courts are the one place where, in cases like these, reason can still prevail over white-hot emotion; that their job is to provide a calm enough environment for doctors facing impossibly difficult choices to explain their clinical reasoning, and for evidence to be considered on its merits. For in British law, what matters is what is in the best interest of the child, not of the parents or the doctors or wider public opinion, and certainly not of organised religion. The court process functions only when the adults involved can be mature enough to put their own interests to one side, which means lawyers in such cases acting as advocates for their clients – not campaigners advancing their own beliefs.

And while advocacy may mean fighting to the bitter end, there are times when it means gently introducing a client to the idea that it is time to stop; that however unreconciled they are to a painful verdict, it isn’t going to change. It is a conversation that would be familiar, ironically enough, not only to doctors but to priests.

The church’s role can be to give hope where secular medicine has none. Light a candle, say a prayer, and just for a minute you might believe in a miracle. Yet that is not its only role at the end of life, when the dying and the grieving are looking as much for comfort as for hope; and for help in accepting the inevitable with grace. As Psalm 23: 4 has it, “Yea, though I walk through the shadows of the valley of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me.” This family is walking through the shadows of that valley now, and they deserve to be accompanied by people with only their best interests at heart. May they find the comfort and grace they deserve.

Gaby Hinsliff is a Guardian columnist

Alfie Evans’ parents needed help. The vultures came instead | Gaby Hinsliff

Fanatical. Deluded. Emotive nonsense. These are unusually strong terms for a judge to use, particularly in a case as intensely sad and bitterly contested as that of the terminally ill child Alfie Evans. Yet Mr Justice Hayden, referring to some of the campaigners now surrounding Alfie’s parents, did not mince his words, after this most hellish of ethical dilemmas ended this week in a court ruling that the child’s ventilator be switched off against the family’s wishes.

The judge was careful not to attach blame to Tom Evans and Kate James, who cannot accept the settled view of their son’s doctors that his brain has been damaged catastrophically by an as yet undiagnosed condition, or that the intensive treatment required to keep him alive is no longer in his best interest and may be causing him suffering.

Alfie’s parents have fought like tigers both in and out of court and no parent – even those whose sympathies in this case are with the doctors facing death threats for doing what they honestly believe is the right thing – will begrudge the family their right to clutch in their grief at every straw there is.

But the high court judge is surely right to question the motives of some of those extending straws. The most disturbing aspect of this case is the sense that it is now being exploited by those who see Alfie not as a desperately sick little boy, but as an expedient means of advancing their own ideological cause.

That description doesn’t just apply to the pro-life movement, of course. Among Alfie’s viscerally engaged army of Facebook supporters, which includes many parents of small children, you will find anti-vaxxers using the story to peddle utterly deluded junk science theories about the Vitamin K injection every newborn gets. You’ll find American gun lobby enthusiasts ranting on about how this is what happens when “the government” runs people’s lives and that’s why everyone needs to keep hold of their weapons; never mind that this decision has nothing to do with the government, resting as it does on the independent judgment of doctors upheld by an independent judiciary.

Others have sought to use the case to score cheap, wildly inaccurate points over healthcare reform in the US; to claim this is where “socialised medicine” gets you, when without the NHS and its daily miracle of providing treatment free at the point of use, Alfie’s parents would now be struggling with medical bills running into the millions.

And where far-right conspiracy sites such as Infowars and Breitbart rush in, an army of trolls inevitably follows. Staff at Alder Hey children’s hospital have experienced a horrific barrage of death threats and other online abuse. There have been ugly scenes at the hospital too, reports of over-zealous protesters blocking ambulances or intimidating visitors and patients. It is all too uncomfortably reminiscent of those who harass pregnant women outside abortion clinics and threaten to kill doctors offering terminations, so high on their self-righteous mission to save that all other human lives cease to matter.

Alfie’s parents, Tom Evans and Kate James.


Alfie’s parents, Tom Evans and Kate James. Photograph: Philip Toscano/PA

But none of that is quite what the judge meant. His concern centres specifically on the way the Evans family has been taken under the wing of a hitherto little-known evangelical group called the Christian Legal Centre, which has supplied the parents with a barrister and, somewhat dubiously, the services of a law student named Pavel Stroilov. A statement drafted for Alfie’s father was, according to Hayden, loaded with “vituperation and bile” against the hospital, which had not helped the baby’s case. At one point, Stroilov apparently became party to an attempt by Alfie’s father to have the doctors prosecuted for murder.

The family’s former solicitor Mary Holmes has accused activists of seeking to “keep this child alive at any costs and not for the right reasons”, using the case to raise their profile with interventions such as securing Tom Evans an audience with the pope. Most seriously, Stroilov stands accused of giving Evans inaccurate advice in a letter stating that he had the legal right to remove his son from the hospital, despite a court order to the contrary, causing an understandably emotional standoff between the parents and the hospital when it became clear that was not the case. What is compassionate or Christian about giving a desperate man false hope?

The judge’s objection to an outpouring of what he called “emotive nonsense” in his courtroom is not to be confused with heartlessness. Rather, it is a recognition that courts are the one place where, in cases like these, reason can still prevail over white-hot emotion; that their job is to provide a calm enough environment for doctors facing impossibly difficult choices to explain their clinical reasoning, and for evidence to be considered on its merits. For in British law, what matters is what is in the best interest of the child, not of the parents or the doctors or wider public opinion, and certainly not of organised religion. The court process functions only when the adults involved can be mature enough to put their own interests to one side, which means lawyers in such cases acting as advocates for their clients – not campaigners advancing their own beliefs.

And while advocacy may mean fighting to the bitter end, there are times when it means gently introducing a client to the idea that it is time to stop; that however unreconciled they are to a painful verdict, it isn’t going to change. It is a conversation that would be familiar, ironically enough, not only to doctors but to priests.

The church’s role can be to give hope where secular medicine has none. Light a candle, say a prayer, and just for a minute you might believe in a miracle. Yet that is not its only role at the end of life, when the dying and the grieving are looking as much for comfort as for hope; and for help in accepting the inevitable with grace. As Psalm 23: 4 has it, “Yea, though I walk through the shadows of the valley of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me.” This family is walking through the shadows of that valley now, and they deserve to be accompanied by people with only their best interests at heart. May they find the comfort and grace they deserve.

Gaby Hinsliff is a Guardian columnist

Alfie Evans’ parents needed help. The vultures came instead | Gaby Hinsliff

Fanatical. Deluded. Emotive nonsense. These are unusually strong terms for a judge to use, particularly in a case as intensely sad and bitterly contested as that of the terminally ill child Alfie Evans. Yet Mr Justice Hayden, referring to some of the campaigners now surrounding Alfie’s parents, did not mince his words, after this most hellish of ethical dilemmas ended this week in a court ruling that the child’s ventilator be switched off against the family’s wishes.

The judge was careful not to attach blame to Tom Evans and Kate James, who cannot accept the settled view of their son’s doctors that his brain has been damaged catastrophically by an as yet undiagnosed condition, or that the intensive treatment required to keep him alive is no longer in his best interest and may be causing him suffering.

Alfie’s parents have fought like tigers both in and out of court and no parent – even those whose sympathies in this case are with the doctors facing death threats for doing what they honestly believe is the right thing – will begrudge the family their right to clutch in their grief at every straw there is.

But the high court judge is surely right to question the motives of some of those extending straws. The most disturbing aspect of this case is the sense that it is now being exploited by those who see Alfie not as a desperately sick little boy, but as an expedient means of advancing their own ideological cause.

That description doesn’t just apply to the pro-life movement, of course. Among Alfie’s viscerally engaged army of Facebook supporters, which includes many parents of small children, you will find anti-vaxxers using the story to peddle utterly deluded junk science theories about the Vitamin K injection every newborn gets. You’ll find American gun lobby enthusiasts ranting on about how this is what happens when “the government” runs people’s lives and that’s why everyone needs to keep hold of their weapons; never mind that this decision has nothing to do with the government, resting as it does on the independent judgment of doctors upheld by an independent judiciary.

Others have sought to use the case to score cheap, wildly inaccurate points over healthcare reform in the US; to claim this is where “socialised medicine” gets you, when without the NHS and its daily miracle of providing treatment free at the point of use, Alfie’s parents would now be struggling with medical bills running into the millions.

And where far-right conspiracy sites such as Infowars and Breitbart rush in, an army of trolls inevitably follows. Staff at Alder Hey children’s hospital have experienced a horrific barrage of death threats and other online abuse. There have been ugly scenes at the hospital too, reports of over-zealous protesters blocking ambulances or intimidating visitors and patients. It is all too uncomfortably reminiscent of those who harass pregnant women outside abortion clinics and threaten to kill doctors offering terminations, so high on their self-righteous mission to save that all other human lives cease to matter.

Alfie’s parents, Tom Evans and Kate James.


Alfie’s parents, Tom Evans and Kate James. Photograph: Philip Toscano/PA

But none of that is quite what the judge meant. His concern centres specifically on the way the Evans family has been taken under the wing of a hitherto little-known evangelical group called the Christian Legal Centre, which has supplied the parents with a barrister and, somewhat dubiously, the services of a law student named Pavel Stroilov. A statement drafted for Alfie’s father was, according to Hayden, loaded with “vituperation and bile” against the hospital, which had not helped the baby’s case. At one point, Stroilov apparently became party to an attempt by Alfie’s father to have the doctors prosecuted for murder.

The family’s former solicitor Mary Holmes has accused activists of seeking to “keep this child alive at any costs and not for the right reasons”, using the case to raise their profile with interventions such as securing Tom Evans an audience with the pope. Most seriously, Stroilov stands accused of giving Evans inaccurate advice in a letter stating that he had the legal right to remove his son from the hospital, despite a court order to the contrary, causing an understandably emotional standoff between the parents and the hospital when it became clear that was not the case. What is compassionate or Christian about giving a desperate man false hope?

The judge’s objection to an outpouring of what he called “emotive nonsense” in his courtroom is not to be confused with heartlessness. Rather, it is a recognition that courts are the one place where, in cases like these, reason can still prevail over white-hot emotion; that their job is to provide a calm enough environment for doctors facing impossibly difficult choices to explain their clinical reasoning, and for evidence to be considered on its merits. For in British law, what matters is what is in the best interest of the child, not of the parents or the doctors or wider public opinion, and certainly not of organised religion. The court process functions only when the adults involved can be mature enough to put their own interests to one side, which means lawyers in such cases acting as advocates for their clients – not campaigners advancing their own beliefs.

And while advocacy may mean fighting to the bitter end, there are times when it means gently introducing a client to the idea that it is time to stop; that however unreconciled they are to a painful verdict, it isn’t going to change. It is a conversation that would be familiar, ironically enough, not only to doctors but to priests.

The church’s role can be to give hope where secular medicine has none. Light a candle, say a prayer, and just for a minute you might believe in a miracle. Yet that is not its only role at the end of life, when the dying and the grieving are looking as much for comfort as for hope; and for help in accepting the inevitable with grace. As Psalm 23: 4 has it, “Yea, though I walk through the shadows of the valley of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me.” This family is walking through the shadows of that valley now, and they deserve to be accompanied by people with only their best interests at heart. May they find the comfort and grace they deserve.

Gaby Hinsliff is a Guardian columnist

Alfie Evans’ parents needed help. The vultures came instead | Gaby Hinsliff

Fanatical. Deluded. Emotive nonsense. These are unusually strong terms for a judge to use, particularly in a case as intensely sad and bitterly contested as that of the terminally ill child Alfie Evans. Yet Mr Justice Hayden, referring to some of the campaigners now surrounding Alfie’s parents, did not mince his words, after this most hellish of ethical dilemmas ended this week in a court ruling that the child’s ventilator be switched off against the family’s wishes.

The judge was careful not to attach blame to Tom Evans and Kate James, who cannot accept the settled view of their son’s doctors that his brain has been damaged catastrophically by an as yet undiagnosed condition, or that the intensive treatment required to keep him alive is no longer in his best interest and may be causing him suffering.

Alfie’s parents have fought like tigers both in and out of court and no parent – even those whose sympathies in this case are with the doctors facing death threats for doing what they honestly believe is the right thing – will begrudge the family their right to clutch in their grief at every straw there is.

But the high court judge is surely right to question the motives of some of those extending straws. The most disturbing aspect of this case is the sense that it is now being exploited by those who see Alfie not as a desperately sick little boy, but as an expedient means of advancing their own ideological cause.

That description doesn’t just apply to the pro-life movement, of course. Among Alfie’s viscerally engaged army of Facebook supporters, which includes many parents of small children, you will find anti-vaxxers using the story to peddle utterly deluded junk science theories about the Vitamin K injection every newborn gets. You’ll find American gun lobby enthusiasts ranting on about how this is what happens when “the government” runs people’s lives and that’s why everyone needs to keep hold of their weapons; never mind that this decision has nothing to do with the government, resting as it does on the independent judgment of doctors upheld by an independent judiciary.

Others have sought to use the case to score cheap, wildly inaccurate points over healthcare reform in the US; to claim this is where “socialised medicine” gets you, when without the NHS and its daily miracle of providing treatment free at the point of use, Alfie’s parents would now be struggling with medical bills running into the millions.

And where far-right conspiracy sites such as Infowars and Breitbart rush in, an army of trolls inevitably follows. Staff at Alder Hey children’s hospital have experienced a horrific barrage of death threats and other online abuse. There have been ugly scenes at the hospital too, reports of over-zealous protesters blocking ambulances or intimidating visitors and patients. It is all too uncomfortably reminiscent of those who harass pregnant women outside abortion clinics and threaten to kill doctors offering terminations, so high on their self-righteous mission to save that all other human lives cease to matter.

Alfie’s parents, Tom Evans and Kate James.


Alfie’s parents, Tom Evans and Kate James. Photograph: Philip Toscano/PA

But none of that is quite what the judge meant. His concern centres specifically on the way the Evans family has been taken under the wing of a hitherto little-known evangelical group called the Christian Legal Centre, which has supplied the parents with a barrister and, somewhat dubiously, the services of a law student named Pavel Stroilov. A statement drafted for Alfie’s father was, according to Hayden, loaded with “vituperation and bile” against the hospital, which had not helped the baby’s case. At one point, Stroilov apparently became party to an attempt by Alfie’s father to have the doctors prosecuted for murder.

The family’s former solicitor Mary Holmes has accused activists of seeking to “keep this child alive at any costs and not for the right reasons”, using the case to raise their profile with interventions such as securing Tom Evans an audience with the pope. Most seriously, Stroilov stands accused of giving Evans inaccurate advice in a letter stating that he had the legal right to remove his son from the hospital, despite a court order to the contrary, causing an understandably emotional standoff between the parents and the hospital when it became clear that was not the case. What is compassionate or Christian about giving a desperate man false hope?

The judge’s objection to an outpouring of what he called “emotive nonsense” in his courtroom is not to be confused with heartlessness. Rather, it is a recognition that courts are the one place where, in cases like these, reason can still prevail over white-hot emotion; that their job is to provide a calm enough environment for doctors facing impossibly difficult choices to explain their clinical reasoning, and for evidence to be considered on its merits. For in British law, what matters is what is in the best interest of the child, not of the parents or the doctors or wider public opinion, and certainly not of organised religion. The court process functions only when the adults involved can be mature enough to put their own interests to one side, which means lawyers in such cases acting as advocates for their clients – not campaigners advancing their own beliefs.

And while advocacy may mean fighting to the bitter end, there are times when it means gently introducing a client to the idea that it is time to stop; that however unreconciled they are to a painful verdict, it isn’t going to change. It is a conversation that would be familiar, ironically enough, not only to doctors but to priests.

The church’s role can be to give hope where secular medicine has none. Light a candle, say a prayer, and just for a minute you might believe in a miracle. Yet that is not its only role at the end of life, when the dying and the grieving are looking as much for comfort as for hope; and for help in accepting the inevitable with grace. As Psalm 23: 4 has it, “Yea, though I walk through the shadows of the valley of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me.” This family is walking through the shadows of that valley now, and they deserve to be accompanied by people with only their best interests at heart. May they find the comfort and grace they deserve.

Gaby Hinsliff is a Guardian columnist