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

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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.

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