There has been no coup, no abdication, no revolution. It is an event that has gone largely unnoticed. The media have hardly spoken about it. Yet it is a reality. The monarchy in Belgium is done with, over, kaput. The king of Belgium has turned himself out of his royal throne by signing a law on March 9 that permits child euthanasia. But some might say that this royal assent is not the end of the Belgian monarchy, but, on the contrary, assures its longevity. As the newspaper, La libre belgique has stated, the Belgian king “has fulfilled his constitutional role perfectly,” despite being pressured not to sign the law. Had he refused to sign it, he might have been forced to abdicate and the monarchy itself might have disappeared in Belgium, since it is already on shaky ground.
But when the monarchy is mainly representative (having to sign laws without any right to veto or change them, gives it de facto a representational role to play, even if the Belgian monarchy is called a constitutional one, where the King would typically nominate and dismiss ministers, and exercise some executive powers), then it’s main raison d’être is its moral role. It is supposed to be a moral guide in a confused world, independent of party politics and therefore less moved by the ideological winds that blow where they wish. When everyone else buckles under, when common sense, basic human decency and the most sacred moral laws have been thrown overboard, then the king should stand up and shine some light into this Babylonian darkness.
For all of these laws over the last half-century in Western countries—which have led to the killing of the unborn, of the sick and elderly and now to the murder of sick children—have been passed in the name of compassion. There is no greater or more brazen lie than this. Supporters may say they are motivated by love, they may for the most part be befuddled and believe they are averting unnecessary human suffering, but under their disguise lurks a barbarism just as real as the one we witnessed in the first half of the twentieth century. This “compassion” does not live up to its name, for it does not “suffer with”; it does not accompany the women in crisis pregnancies on their difficult path and offer them real options, but gives them an easy-way out, namely the killing of a child, leaving the woman often traumatized for life. (How often these women say later that they had “no choice,” thereby belying the “pro-choice” position its very name.) The message is conveyed to those gravely ill that there is no hope and that they are better off dead. This lie eventually leads to the killing of those who are not terminally ill—like the 45-year-old deaf twin brothers last year, who preferred to be euthanized rather than go blind (when they could, for example, have learned other communication techniques) or the depressed whose situation could be improved. It already occurs in hospitals against the will of patients and out of public sight. The floodgates are open and legalized euthanasia cannot be tamed with a few rules and regulations.
In the beginning of Macbeth, the witches call things by their opposite: “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.” We do the same when we call killing an act of love. There are those who are called by their office, their profession and their talents to speak the truth in public places: priests, teachers, those in positions of moral authority like royalty. If a country will not listen to them, then the worse it is for that country. It is even more tragic, however, when public figures abandon their vocation and follow the crowd out of fear of not being heard. When the moral compass no longer points to the pole of truth, it has become useless, and needs to be discarded like salt that has lost its taste. If the king of Belgium will not stand up against the killing of children, what offence against morality will he oppose?
By recalling recent events, we can better judge the gravity of King Philippe’s decision. In 2002 Belgium legalized euthanasia for adults. In February of this year, Belgium’s parliament adopted a law that would extend euthanasia to children without an age-limit. The vote was pushed through quickly, despite the open letter of 200 pediatric doctors to the head of the chamber, André Flahaut, asking to postpone the vote and gather more feedback. Dr. Christiane Vermyle, a pediatric oncologist in Louvain, said that the palliative care given to children allows for an end of life that is gentle and without pain; the children can still enjoy special moments with their parents every day thanks to medical treatment at home; in her 30 years of professional experience, she had never been asked to euthanize a child and she didn’t believe it was necessary in terms of pain management. This law was proposed even though no parents in particular asked for the euthanasia law to apply to children. Instead, the socialist senator Philippe Mahoux, who wrote the law, is calling it “humanistic.”
Admittedly, the king of Belgium was in a difficult position. Yes, his uncle, King Baudouin, had abdicated for a day in 1990, in order not to sign a law legalizing abortion, thereby setting a courageous example. 210,000 signatures from 20 countries, collected by CitizenGo, were brought to King Philippe, encouraging him to make the right decision; a charming video of a little girl—whose sickness could in future years have meant her death-warrant, but who recovered through surgery—was addressed to him, begging him to desist. But King Philippe’s father, King Albert II, had signed the law permitting euthanasia in 2002, thereby making things more confusing for his son. Albert’s act was the death knell of the monarchy; his son’s signature is digging its grave. King Philippe was under much pressure and probably had a hard time discerning what to do, especially since he is a practicing Catholic and against euthanasia. He was in all likelihood afraid his refusal would bring about the end of the monarchy in Belgium and all the potential good it could still do (the king is deemed one of the key elements in holding the country together which is in constant tension between its Flemish and its Walloon populations). He is a young and inexperienced king who succeeded to the throne only in July 2013. Yet this offered an opportunity for him to redeem the monarchy, to stand up where his father had backed down. He missed his chance, which is a shame, for it comes with grave consequences.
King Philippe could also point to widespread public disagreement. Some thought there was no right choice, that even his abdication would be similar to Pontius Pilate washing his hands of Christ’s blood. What they failed to see is that Pontius Pilate’s refusal to intervene was not a refusal to participate in an evil act; he still ordered his soldiers to kill Jesus, but wrongly thought he could free himself from all guilt. King Philippe sanctioned an evil law by signing it, while his refusal to do so would have freed him from all responsibility and been an important witness to the world, even though the law was going to be implemented regardless of his decision. His refusal to sign would have been analogous to Pontius Pilate refusing to have Jesus executed. Both buckled under enormous pressure. But they failed to see that the political gain they sought was short-lived.
How will history judge King Philippe’s decision? How will his family view him in generations to come? Once Europe will wake up from its madness and see the horrors it has been perpetrating over half a century, it will look back with admiration at those who stood up. Bishop von Galen is held up as a shining example for his incredibly brave denunciation of Hitler’s euthanasia program. Consider another example: By seeking an early end to WWI by reaching out to Austria’s enemies, Blessed Karl von Habsburg was called a coward and traitor by his ally, Germany, who then marginalized him. His end was by worldly standards a sad one (he died on Madeira in 1922 from pneumonia due to the cold and humid conditions in which he was forced to live), but glorious by heavenly criteria. One day he will be widely acknowledged as a man of peace and a promoter of social reform in a time of warring nationalism and class conflict, challenging the ideologies of his day.
Perhaps King Philippe can make amends. He can still publicly declare his regret for having signed the law and pledge never to make the same mistake again. We can only hope he will admit his error. The monarchy may yet continue as an institution for years to come, but in terms of its purpose and vocation it is surely dead. It has sawed off the branch on which it was sitting and has lost its moral credibility. Paradoxically, signing this law appears to have brought about precisely what King Philippe was trying to avoid.
Editor’s note: The photo in the text was taken in a Brussels cathedral on July 21, 2013, the day Prince Philippe (left) was to ascend to the throne of Belgium. Seated next to him is his father King Albert II. (Photo credit: Reuters.)