Mocking Compassion: Euthanasia Beyond Belgium

 “In the absence of faith, we govern by tenderness.  And tenderness leads to the gas chamber.”  — Flannery O’Connor

Beware of the compassionate. Catholic author Flannery O’Connor wrote shocking stories. Each tale climaxed at “a moment of grace” when the main character, jolted by the sudden realization of their false “compassionate,” self-serving life, was forced to choose—or reject—truth.  Modern Western cultures have had a jolt. On February 13, the Belgian parliament voted 86 to 44 in favor of a bill that permits euthanasia for very young children.  We can no longer pin a wig over the bald truth of the culture of death.

The controversial bill, already approved by the Belgian senate in December, erected flimsy thresholds, such as “constant and unbearable physical pain” and consent of parents.  A pediatric psychologist will be consulted to insure that the child is “capable of discernment” and understands the gravity of the choice.  The law takes effect when Belgium’s King Philippe signs the measure.  His signature however is merely symbolic; withholding it will not forestall the law, though it would stand as a significant moment in Belgian history.  Some pediatricians and the Catholic hierarchy opposed the bill.

Among few others, Flemish Christian Democratic senator, Els Van Hoof fought the bill.  “They [children] can’t drink before they’re 16. They can’t smoke before they’re 16. They can’t vote before they’re 18. They can’t marry before they’re 18. They can’t be punished because they don’t have the competence. But when they talk about life and death, they can decide? It’s not coherent,” the Senator said. Others insisted the measure is part of the development of Human Rights, and all should have self determination of their own death. How, precisely, this differs from suicide is never articulated.

Brussels is an urbane city, the seat of the European Union.  It is a symbol for modern progressive political and cultural values.  The nation had approved euthanasia for citizens over 18 years of age in 2002. Just last year Belgian twin brothers, 45, deaf and going blind chose to die rather than face their future in an assisted living facility. Their case is instructive as it points to the direction that a “death with dignity” mentality always leans—any sorrow or discomfort can be “unbearable” thus requires the compassion of euthanasia.  Had compassion—and not death—been the goal, professionals could have worked with the twins to teach new methods of communication, new ways to maximize their lives together. The brothers were not terminal nor in physical pain.

And yet their case is held up as a modern understanding of the “right to die.”  At the international level, a so-called “right to die” is thought to be a compassionate, advanced policy. It has surfaced in various official reports, conferences and documents. In 2011 the Holy See Mission attended a United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva where it strenuously opposed the creeping language of death, such as, “issues of patient autonomy in respect of deciding to end life.”  Just days ago, Quebec proposed a law to permit lethal injection for an undefined “end of life” situation in which the person has no means to alleviate pain.

Opponents of Quebec’s proposed law point out that this is an attempt to guarantee a right to die, without an attempt to guarantee access to pain treatment as defined by the World Medical Association Resolution on the Access to Adequate Pain Treatment (2011).  Nor is there “access to palliative care” as recommended in a 2013 United Nations paper that states, “a person suffering from severe pain but [who] has no access to appropriate treatment will constitute cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.”  Dr. Paul Saba, a family physician in Quebec, points out that the child euthanasia law in Belgium will spread to other nations. Children with difficult birth issues—who could go on to lead good lives—are at risk.  With his four year old daughter, Dr. Saba sent a video plea against child euthanasia to King Philippe of Belgium.

Switzerland is home to Dignitas, an assisted suicide organization. Its founder, Mr. Minelli, provides doctors who administer death on demand, “without conditions.”  When critics suggested that Dignitas’ services should only be available for the terminally ill, Minelli opposed any restrictions. “As a human rights lawyer I am opposed to paternalism. We do not make decisions for other people,” he said.

But, increasingly they do. Particularly where socialized medicine means health care services are rationed, the question inevitably surfaces: Is this life worth saving? Worth treating for three more years?  One doctor noted, “Keep in mind that the cost to treat chronic conditions, including depression or Lupus where, with care, patients can lead decent lives, have a social-economic impact. We have become progressively utilitarian. We’re a society where the actual measure of worth is, ‘how much do you add to, or, subtract from our common project’.”

The truth that lies underneath the “rights” rhetoric is who will decide what constitutes a quality of life and at what cost. Theodore Dalrymple is an English doctor, psychiatrist and author of Our Culture—What’s Left of It. Dalrymple wrote, “Euthanasia has a tendency to slide from the voluntary to the compulsory, as people increasingly make judgments on behalf of others as to what is a human life worth living.”

Christians can take their cue on the question from Malcolm Muggeridge: “Jesus healed the sick, raised Lazarus from the dead, gave back sanity to the deranged, but never did He practice, or include, killing as part of the mercy that occupied His heart. His true followers cannot but adopt the same attitude.”

Belgium has given us a warning: We have arrived at a fork in the road and now must choose our path.  A recent Pew poll reports that one third of Evangelicals support assisted suicide for terminally ill persons. And surprisingly, 55 percent of white Catholics and 33 percent of Hispanic Catholics think suicide is a moral choice for the terminally ill. Just days after the Belgian law was passed, noisy “compassionate” voices in the United States urged America to follow Belgium’s lead. The Los Angeles Times featured Scott Martelle who wrote that the Belgian measure is “a distressing concept,” and “sounds incredibly cold” but it was, after all, “the right, groundbreaking track.”  There you have it: Child sacrifice is “groundbreaking.” More like earth shattering, for if we kill our own children, who can be protected?

Mary Jo Anderson


Mary Jo Anderson is a Catholic journalist and public speaker. She has been a frequent guest on "Abundant Life," an EWTN television program, and her "Global Watch" radio program is heard on EWTN radio affiliates nationwide. She writes regularly for Crisis Magazine. More articles and commentary can be found at Properly Scared and at Women for Faith and Family. Mary Jo is a board member of Women for Faith and Family and has served on the Legatus Board of Directors. With co-author Robin Bernhoft, she wrote "Male and Female He Made Them: Questions and Answers about Marriage and Same-Sex Unions," published in 2005 by Catholic Answers. In 2003 Mary Jo was invited to the Czech Republic to address parliamentarians on the Impact of Radical Feminism on Emerging Democracies.

  • ForChristAlone

    “…surprisingly, 55 percent of white Catholics and 33 percent of Hispanic Catholics think suicide is a moral choice for the terminally ill.”

    This is NOT surprising but it IS scandalous. There was a time that being Catholic was an insulating factor against suicide because of strongly-held beliefs in the sanctity of life. The Church has bedded down with the dominant culture. It is time for the Church to get out of bed, arise, take up its pallet and walk.

    And who will be instructing Catholics in moral and ethical thinking and behavior? Whose responsibility is it? Parents, yes. Bishops, priests and deacons, yes. Parish catechists, yes. Responsible adults within the Catholic community, yes. Catholic schools and universities, yes.

    • Art Deco

      And who will be instructing Catholics in moral and ethical thinking and behavior?

      Two-thirds of the time the answer is ‘no one’ because they do not show up for Mass (much less do anything more elaborate). For two-thirds of the remainder, the answer is ‘no one’ because the sermons are all pap.

  • Objectivetruth

    Recent 20th anniversary, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast, Washington, DC, February 5, 1994:

    “And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child (abortion), how can we tell other people not to kill one another?”

    How is anyone shocked or surprised by child euthanasia? It’s the natural progression from legalizing abortion.

    And is it eventually coming to the United States? Oh, yes………

  • C

    God help them, and us.

    • concerned for this country

      indeed, we are asking a lot from Our Merciful God.

      • tom

        Barack and Sebelius raised the price of prescription drugs to please Big Pharma and is now reducing subsidies for those who can’t afford them. Death will follow for many. Old folks didn’t vote for him so they can bite the dust.

        • mary jo anderson

          If we begin to view current events, public and international policy, including education policy, scientific research grants, giant agribusiness’ headlong plunge into GMO foods, medical philosophy, and more–if we view the trajectory of these segments of our society, the specter of population control is inescapable. I am NOT making a case for a coordinated, conspiratorial world-controlling entity that is guiding us toward mass annihilation. Rather, I hope to indicate that there is self inflicted modern malaise that is converging on some not too distant horizon. Nearly every arena of human endeavor seems to have internalized a nihilistic principle. For shorthand, one might say that a spiritual vacuum following the God Is Dead meme, inevitably, if unconsciously, leads to Man Is Dead.

          It would require an article to two or ten to properly examine this hypothesis, but much as the optical illusion of the lovely woman or the old crone, once seen, is always recognized on subsequent viewings, just so do some observers recognize population control in some guise behind the lovely pictures presented to us as enlightened progress.

  • vito

    is it just a prophetic coincidence that Austin Powers’ Dr Evil was from Belgium?:)

  • publiusnj

    Although I take offense at blaming the Church for the sins of its members (including its ministers), I agree with “For Christ Alone” that the Church needs to instruct the Faithful and the World that suicide is immoral. PERIOD.

  • My experience with migraines has taught me that pain that seems unbearable, can be miraculously bearable if one believes.

    • jcbathtub

      have you tried a gluten free diet for your migraines?

      • Yep. Makes it so that I’m not able to concentrate on my career, which is software engineering.

        I suspect that my migraines and my career are so tied to my autism, that the two go hand in hand.

  • poetcomic1

    A hospice worker in England wrote an interesting letter on euthanasia. She said it is common for terminal patients to go through 2-3 periods of suicidal depression. They can be ‘talked down off the ledge’ and often they make what we Catholics call ‘a good death’. In the West, our leaders are joining the barbaric crowd far below shouting ‘Jump! Jump!’

    • Steph

      That’s interesting. Do you remember where you read the letter? I’d be interested to read what she has to say.

      • poetcomic1

        I read it on either Crisis or National Catholic Register I believe (awhile ago). It was just a response to some article.

    • Pat Brown

      I spent a decade as a hospice RN, and they were among the most rewarding of my life and career. Those approaching the Lord can be close to Him, if their temporal pain and other symptoms are controlled appropriately. With the Love of Christ and the wonders of medication and hospice support, the dying can live so richly in a day, week, or month. I am sickened at the attempt to hasten death, rather than support the living until the moment the Father calls them home. Mother Teresa was a Prophet….killing one of the least of these leads to killing of any who are not of worldly value. May the Lord and the Blessed Mother have Mercy on us all.

      • poetcomic1

        God Bless you in your work.
        “O most merciful Jesus, lover of souls. I pray Thee by the agony of thy most Sacred Heart, and by the sorrow of They Immaculate Mother, cleanse in Thy blood the sinners of the whole world, who are now in their agony and who are to die this day. Amen.”

      • mary jo anderson

        @Poetcomic1. Beautifully stated.

      • mary jo anderson

        @Pat Brown, thank you this truly compassionate insight. This is the same approach to the dying that several doctors have witnessed with their own patients who had Catholic families. It is an enormous witness to the medical community.

  • Paul

    We are now witnessing “human wrongs” twisted to be “human rights” , quick & easy solutions (i.e. contraceptives, abortion & euthanasia) meant to remove us from personal responsibily & liability are cloaked in a false sense of compassion. Love has been replaced by sex, true compassion has been replaced by personal control & human wrongs – all leading to an immoral end.

  • GoDark

    If you assume the best of current events in the so-called civilized nations of western Europe and the Americas, it is tempting to say that Hilter and the Nazis were just ahead of their time and should not suffer the indignities — the moral assaults — from the official myth makers that deride them as paradigms of evil. If Hitler was evil, then “we” are evil; if “we” are not evil, then Hitler was not evil. The logic? “We” and the Nazis are about some of the same things so we must reach the same conclusions about “them” and “us”. If parents can now make the decision to euthanize their Down’s Syndrome child as having a life not worth living, then the Nazis were equally just in acting in the role of “loco parentis” — in the place of a parent — when they washed Germany clean of defective children, the disabled, the mentally ill, and the handicapped in the T-4 Program that euthanized about 70,000 people. It was, then, a small step from the T-4 Program to the death camps as the Nazis cascaded down the slippery slope from defining candidates for euthanasia as “physically defective” to those who were “socially defective”. Put another way, the Nazi death camps were a very, very, very large euthanasia program. All of this makes me a firm believer in the reality of Original Sin. The Nazis (and those that think and behave like them) cannot be walled off as “sick” criminals that allow us to think better of ourselves than we deserve. The Nazis are among to this day, some in positions of great power and influence in our national governments. How to avoid becoming like the “Nazi”? From the outset, do everything you can to keep our social order from sliding down the slippery slope that inevitably and necessarily leads to “Auschwitz”!

    • MJ Anderson

      Sobering thought.

  • John

    Great article, Mary Jo! I’m Swiss and I am very proud of my country but I am truly ashamed that an organisation like Dignitas can be found within our borders. It has a really creepy reputation here.
    I’m sorry but it doesn’t surprise me that 55% of white catholics support euthanasia – that’s about the number who support every other modern madness from homosexual “marriage” to abortion.
    Despite that negative note I am still confident that God’s law will win out – eventually.

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  • newguy40

    There is an overwhelming stench of nihilism in our civilization. Nihilism and ennui.

    “When we’re all gone at last then there’ll be nobody here but death and his days will
    be numbered too. He’ll be out in the road there with nothing to do and nobody
    to do it to. He’ll say: where did everybody go? And that’s how it will be.
    What’s wrong with that?” Cormac McCarthy, “The Road”

    We are the times: as we are, such are the times.
    – St. Augustine

    • paologasparini

      The best metaphor I can use to describe liberal Western society is the barren
      Dead Sea,vs the Galilee Sea, abounding in fish. Both receive water
      from river Jordan, but the former does not outpour it. They are the
      most adequate images both of human flourishing and human
      In the same way the Father gives all His Love to the Son, and the Son
      reciprocally open His Heart until death on the Cross, outpouring
      Water and Blood for us, so we should all, through moral courage,
      endurance, greatness of soul, generosity, devotion to justice – in
      acts great and small – spend the precious coinage of our lives for
      the sake of the poorest of the poor, the noble, the good and the
      holy, home, family, community, genuine friendship. We should free
      ourselves from fear, from bodily pleasures, from attachments to
      wealth, in doing virtuous deeds. Fecundity is and require a kind of
      oblivion, like death itself. Western countries have instead received
      and achieved prosperity, community, stability and near universal
      contentment, but they do not more read, write, pray, think, love or
      govern themselves. In a word, we have choosed contraception, that
      is, we pay a pound’s worth of the all too finite powers and fleshly
      concerns to the body, and get out of it a pennyworth of mere
      existence towards the trascendent longings of the soul.

  • John O’Neill

    Fifty five percent of Americanized catholics support euthanasia and about the same amount approve of abortion. I find it difficult to relate to the American catholics anymore; what is their religion? It seems to have nothing in common with my traditional Catholic Faith and the Faith of Flannery O’Connor or of Malcolm Muggeridge. No wonder the Catholic Churches in America resemble more and more those “bare ruined choirs” about which Shakespeare wrote. The so called Vatican II American catholics are certainly some group.

  • Ruth Rocker

    While this is reprehensible, it shouldn’t be completely unexpected. We’ve been killing children before they’re born for decades. This just moves the playing field.

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  • AcceptingReality

    Coming to the US sooner than you think……unless we stop electing democrats like those in power now. That happens when “the false gospel of silence on the main issues of the day” ceases to be preached from our pulpits Sunday after Sunday.

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  • GoDark

    Please forgive … this is my second comment but it is on a subject that warrants repeated discussion. You can add up all of the pain, suffering, and inconvenience associated with unwanted and defective children (or unwanted and defective adults) and miss the point. Sometimes people have to suffer for the common good! And the issue of euthanasia as well as abortion are a few of these cases. One cannot countenance abortion or euthanasia and then criticize parents or government taking the lives of others in similar situations. Once on the slippery slope, one cannot get off. Abortion and euthanasia lead to Auschwitz! This outcome may not occur tomorrow … but all it takes is time and the right historical circumstance and the connection is inevitable. It is a point of logic. Hence, sometimes we are asked to endure pain and suffering for the benefit of principle and humanity as demonstrably better than the alternatives. Did not Christ do the same for us? Post-Christian western civilization is unfortunately already on the slippery slope. We are s-l-i-d-i-n-g toward Armageddon at an ever increasing pace and the outcome of the war between good and evil has yet to be decided. We cannot be confident of the outcome. At times I believe that the Catholic Church is the only institution of merit left that can save western civilization from this otherwise inevitable degeneration. Your thoughts?

  • Lindsay

    Because God did not make death,
    nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.

    For he fashioned all things that they might have being,
    and the creatures of the world are wholesome;
    There is not a destructive drug among them
    nor any domain of Hades on earth,

    For righteousness is undying.
    It was the wicked who with hands and words invited death,
    considered it a friend, and pined for it,
    and made a covenant with it,
    Because they deserve to be allied with it.

    – Wisdom 1:13-16

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