Monday, April 29, 2013

The expansion of euthanasia in Europe

In the May 2013 issue of First Things (subscription necessary for online access), Wesley J. Smith tracks the steady expansion of euthanasia in the Netherlands and now Belgium—"from the terminally ill, to more seriously chronically ill, to people with serious disabilities, to those suffering from existential anguish or mental illness," including "the profoundly depressed" and those with "early dementia." Some patients, including many disabled newborn babies, are euthanized even though they have made no request for death. Switzerland, meanwhile, has become a haven for "suicide tourism," a place where people come, many of them merely disabled or depressed, and are helped to kill themselves.

Rather than eliminate the suffering—by caring for those who need help, fixing their depression, and so on—Europe is increasingly choosing to eliminate the sufferers. This is disturbing stuff.

Consider the reaction to one of the first joint euthanasia killings in Belgium:
In 2011, Belgian media extolled the joint deaths of an elderly couple, who were lethally injected with the apparent knowledge and support of their local community. ... The couple's demise was celebrated by a Belgian bioethicist, who said, "It is an important signal to break a taboo. ... This can be viewed as a normal way of dying and viewed as such by the community at large. ... People think that euthanasia can only be applied to terminal cancer patients. But the group is a lot bigger. And this is a beautiful example that allows us to provide a dignified death to this couple, thanks to euthanasia." Most societies see joint suicides by elderly couples as tragic. For some in Belgium, they are beautiful.
Even worse, Smith shows how euthanasia followed by organ harvesting has become a reality:
As reported in Applied Cardiopulmonary Pathophysiology in 2011, four patients (three disabled and one mentally ill) were euthanized and their lungs harvested. The authors seem to hope for more opportunities to study the efficiency and efficacy of harvesting organs from euthanized patients. ... [T]he acceptance of joint killing and harvesting sends a cruel message to disabled and mentally ill people that their deaths could have greater value than their lives.
Smith concludes:
I think widespread popular acceptance of euthanasia in Europe ... is a symptom of cultural nihilism. Consider: A hundred years ago, when people really did die in agony, there was little call for legalizing euthanasia. Yet today, when most pain can be significantly alleviated if not eliminated, we see calls for so-called "death with dignity." Clearly, more is going on than just a desire to eliminate suffering.

What is the antidote? Love. We all age. We fall ill. We grow weak. We become disabled. Life can get very hard. Euthanasia raises the fundamental question of whether our culture will retain the moral capacity to sustain a culture of care for those who have entered life's most difficult stages. On that question, it seems to me, hangs the moral future of Western civilization. For as the Canadian journalist Andrew Coyne has cogently warned: "A society that believes in nothing can offer no argument even against death. A culture that has lost its faith in life cannot comprehend why it should be endured."
In the United States, Oregon and Washington (and arguably Montana via court ruling) have legalized physician-assisted suicide, but it has thus far been resisted everywhere else.