Belgium: First in the World?

02-23-2014Fr. John LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

In Belgium, euthanasia has been deemed medically appropriate for adults for at least twelve years and now has been legalized for minors, with the consent of their parents of course and only after the child has put his request to die in writing. The Belgians are "surprised" that much of the world finds this development disturbing. As reported by Reuters:

Bart Sturtewagen, chief editor of De Standaard, one of the country's largest daily newspapers, said that after 12 years of legal euthanasia in the country, Belgians had grown used to it as an option for the final stages of their lives. "I'm annoyed at hearing 'you'll kill children' in the foreign media. We don't use that kind of language anymore. It's a very different debate on a different level," he said..

Obviously forthright language is for a lesser culture than Belgium. Euphemism is now the lingua franca of ethics and morality. Euphemism is how to say what you don't mean and mean what you don't say. The use of euphemism seems to be the way to permit the formerly impermissible. If we just change the language, the words we use, killing even children somehow becomes acceptable. This strategy, something George Orwell called "double-speak" in 1984 cleans up the ugly reality that has become part of our moral slide to depravity. It functions as verbal quicksand: just try to debate why the issue of killing the sick and vulnerable is wrong and you get stuck in the muck of "you just want people to suffer" backlash.

The Belgians of course insist that the "necessary safeguards" are in place to prevent abuse of this new authority that gives physicians the power to kill. The trouble is that these "safeguards" are never enforced. Proof is that Belgian doctors have admitted to practicing child euthanasia for years even though it had been illegal. So what's to stop them from pushing euthanasia from the terminally ill to the chronically ill and to the "existentially" ill just as has happened in Switzerland, where you can go to a "Suicide Clinic" for just about any reason? And will your consent really matter to those who want to do the "noble" thing and end your suffering? When a physician or hospital ethics board determines your life is no longer worth living does a patient have much choice in the matter?

What's ironic here is that Belgium and Holland were greatly pressured by Hitler and the Third Reich to euthanize the mentally ill and others who were deemed "social misfits". Many physicians in those countries refused to participate and as a result often found themselves practicing medicine underground, arrested or even put in Concentration Camps. Now their descendants are freely practicing what their ancestors suffered and died for.

What's the difference between the two? The difference comes down to motivation. The Nazi's were motivated by malice but today's euthanizers say they are motived by "compassion": as long as I ooze compassion I can do whatever I want. I'm not sure if that makes a difference to the one being killed. Talk about a distinction without a difference! But whatever the motivation or intention, the cumulative result is the further degradation of human life. What does it say when a society abandons its most vulnerable people, what message does it send?

The message that it sends to people who are weak, sick, terminally ill or dependent on another is that you are a burden, you are not worth our time and our resources and therefore we will kill you to put us out of our misery. Euthanasia/Physician Assisted Suicide is the profound abandonment of our most needy brothers and sisters.

Killing is not an acceptable answer to human suffering. Once that door is opened there is no telling who is going to be forced through the door. The solution is not to "off" our sick and elderly or our children but to find ways to alleviate suffering as much as possible. And after we have tried everything we can then we have to stand with the suffering and let them know that their infinite worth and dignity remains despite their suffering.

The Euthanasia/Physician Assisted Suicide train is slowly moving through our culture but it is picking up steam. It is stealthy being put into our medical systems through the use of "Futile Care" Policies in Hospitals, Medical rationing via Health Insurance and Government Policy, refusal by many Hospice Organizations to provide food and/or water to the dying and by the increasing rejection of Hippocratic medicine whose first tenet is "do no harm".

Love, Fr. John B.

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