September 9, 2015 Length: 16:24
Once a culture accepts the fundamental premise of euthanasia consciousness, there is no way to limit doctor-administered death to those who are already at the end of their lives.
Hello. My name is Wesley J. Smith, and welcome to the Human Exceptionalism podcast on Ancient Faith Radio. Today we are going to take a difficult walk. Our topic will be euthanasia and assisted suicide and where legalizing these lethal acts inevitably takes a society that embraces the death agenda.
Many people believe that assisted suicide and euthanasia are supposed to be limited to the terminally ill, for whom nothing but life termination can end suffering. Not only is the nothing-else-can-be-done a false premise, palliative care has made astonishing advances in the last several decades, but it isn’t true that euthanasia is reserved only for the dying. Oh, it may start that way, but once a culture accepts the fundamental premise of euthanasia consciousness, that killing is an acceptable answer to human suffering, there is no way to limit doctor-administered death to those who are already at the end of their lives. After all, there are many conditions that cause far more suffering than terminal illnesses, and for far longer. Thus, if the dying can receive euthanasia, the question naturally arises: Why not those whose suffering is even more severe or protracted? In fact, over time, the answer to that question eventually becomes: They can.
Proponents of legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide dismiss such statements as a “slippery slope” argument, that is, mere alarmism. They promise that strict guidelines will prevent abuse, as if the act itself isn’t already abuse. But on this edition of Human Exceptionalism, we will show that euthanasia’s “slippery slope” is not a future worry, but already abundant facts on the ground. We need only look to the experience of the Netherlands to see this slippery slope in action.
Euthanasia became normalized in the Netherlands in 1973 after a court case and decriminalized if proper guidelines were followed. It was legalized in 2002. Since that time, Dutch doctors have gone from killing the terminally ill who asked for it, to the chronically ill who asked for it, to people with disabilities who asked for it, to the elderly who are “tired of life” who asked for it, to the mentally ill and the depressed. The big Dutch court case opening the door to the killing of depressed people involved a psychiatrist named Chabot, C-h-a-b-o-t, who assisted the suicide of Hilly Bosscher, a middle-aged woman who had lost her two children, one to suicide and the other to illness, and wanted nothing else than to be buried between them. Chabot took Hilly as a patient, but did not attempt to treat her. After four meetings with Hilly over a period of about five weeks, he instead assisted her suicide. The Dutch Supreme Court validated Chabot’s act, ruling that suffering is suffering, whether physical or mentally caused, and that Hilly’s killing was acceptable medical practice.
In recent years, Dutch psychiatrists have been urged in professional journals to increase their participation in the Netherlands’ euthanasia regime. An article published in the Dutch-language Journal of Psychiatry in 2011 explicitly advocated assisted suicide as a treatment for mental illness. “The midwife of death is now appropriate for psychiatric patients, representing an emancipation of the psychiatric patient and psychiatry itself.” Assisted suicide and euthanasia, described as “emancipation” in a professional psychiatric journal. Psychiatrists apparently heeded the call for their greater participation in euthanasia. In 2012, 14 mentally ill patients were reportedly euthanized by their psychiatrists. In 2013, that number tripled to 42.
Dutch doctors also commit infanticide of terminally ill and disabled infants. According to a study published in The Lancet—that’s a British medical journal—about eight percent of all infants who die—not of all infants, but of those who die—are killed by doctors. There has even been a bureaucratic protocol published, instructing how to choose which babies to euthanize. For those interested listeners who want more information on that, do an internet search of the Groningen Protocol. That’s Groningen, G-r-o-n-i-n-g-e-n, Protocol. Showing you how respectable infanticide for disabled or dying babies has become, the New England Journal of Medicine published the Groningen Protocol without criticism.
If the Netherlands slid down the slippery slope, Belgium jumped off the cliff head-first. Belgium legalized euthanasia in 2002. The very first euthanasia death of a multiple sclerosis patient violated the then-new law’s guidelines. No matter: Guidelines are meant to provide assurance more than they are to actually restrict medicalized killing. Indeed, since 2002, the country has experienced a crescendo of increasingly radical euthanasia killings and/or permissions to kill that demonstrated the logical consequences of accepting the premise that killing is an acceptable answer to human suffering.
Here are just a few examples. At least three elderly couples who didn’t want to live apart died together in joint euthanasia killings. That is, these couples were afraid of becoming widowed and chose euthanasia instead. The first was in 2011. The couple was not seriously impaired, and [it] was carried out with the full knowledge and apparent approval of their community. At least one of these joint euthanasia terminations involved a still-healthy couple who “feared the future” according to news reports and was performed by a doctor procured by the couple’s own son, who told The Daily Mail that his parents’ deaths was the best solution since caring for them would be “impossible.”
Most societies consider joint suicides by elderly couples to be tragic. In Belgium, apparently, they are seen as a legitimate solution to the problems associated with eldercare. In a morally sane society, the death doctors would lose their licenses and be tried for homicide, but apparently Belgium no longer fits that description.
Ann G., was a suicidal anorexia patient who publicly accused her previous psychiatrist of persuading her into a sexually exploitative relationship. When the psychiatrist who admitted the charge was not severely disciplined, Ann went to a second psychiatrist for euthanasia. She died at age 44.
Nathan Verhelst underwent a sex-change surgery from woman to man and was then euthanized out of despair over the result. As in the Netherlands, Belgian psychiatrists now use euthanasia as a treatment for suicidal desires caused by mental illness. Most recently, Belgian psychiatrists officially approved the euthanasia request of a 24-year-old chronically depressed woman named Laura as a treatment for her suicidal desires. As of this podcast, her death is pending.
Belgium legalized assisted suicide for children in 2014: no lower age limit. Belgian doctors have also coupled euthanasia of the mentally ill with organ harvesting, as well as with the disabled. Most of these patients have had neuromuscular disabilities or mental illnesses because these patients have “good organs.” Indeed, one terribly ironic case involved a patient who was a chronic self-harmer. The death, harvesting, and subsequent transplant, written about approvingly in an international medical journal. I can think of nothing more dangerous than telling a disabled or mentally ill, despairing person that their death would have greater value that their life. Well, maybe one thing: having a society accept that poisonous premise.
Switzerland’s legal suicide clinics also readily serve the mentally ill and depressed as well as the disabled. There have also been joint assisted suicides there of couples who do not wish to be widowed. Last year, an elderly Italian woman received assisted suicide in Switzerland because she was depressed by the loss of her beauty. The first her family knew about it was when they received her ashes from the clinic in the mail.
Next year, thanks to the Canadian Supreme Court, Canada will likely join the infamous list of countries that allow the mentally ill, disabled, and dying patients to be euthanized. The recent ruling declared a charter right to euthanasia to anyone diagnosed with a medical condition that is irremediable, even if that is because the patient refuses treatment. Pretentiously, the court included psychological pain as a proper justification for euthanasia.
When I recite these and so many other cases that I could discuss, I am often told, “It will never happen in America.” But it already has. Several of Jack Kevorkian’s assisted suicide victims were not physically ill, but solely mentally suffering. Marjorie Wantz, his second death, had once been hospitalized for psychiatric illness, abused the sleep medication Halcyon which can cause suicidal desire, and complained of pelvic pain. Her autopsy showed no physical illness. Then there is the 1996 case of Rebecca Badger, age 39, who sought out Kevorkian’s help in suicide because she believed she had multiple sclerosis. Her autopsy proved that she was not physically ill at all. Further investigations revealed that Badger was a recovering alcoholic who was suffering from depression and was addicted to pain pills. And those are not the only two cases. Despite these and other such deaths, Kevorkian enjoyed and enjoys high poll ratings and was played in a fawning biopic by A-list movie star Al Pacino.
What conclusions can we draw from the euthanasia facts on the ground I have just recited? First, once assisted suicide or euthanasia is legalized, it will not long remain a limited enterprise. This is not a slippery-slope, alarmist conjection, but a conclusion abundantly demonstrated by what has happened in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. There is no gainsaying that once euthanasia gains widespread, public, and medical support, the supposedly strict guidelines designed to prevent abuses become at most low hurdles, easily circumvented or ignored.
Second, legalizing euthanasia changes culture. Not only do the categories of people eligible for euthanasia expand, but the rest of society generally ceases to think that it matters. This desensitizing, if you will, in turn affects how people perceive the moral value of the seriously ill, disabled, and elderly, and perhaps how they view themselves.
Third, euthanasia corrupts medical ethics by mutating the role of doctors into purveyors of death rather than consistent enablers of life.
Fourth, once a person is deemed to be a member of a killable caste, c-a-s-t-e, it becomes easier to reduce his worth to that of a mere natural resource that can be exploited for the benefit of society.
In all of this, I am reminded of something that Canadian journalist Andrew Coyne wrote. In the wake of popular support of a man named Robert Latimer, who asphyxiated his daughter Tracy in a car because she had cerebral palsy, he wrote, “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.” Those are hard words, but let us not despair. We have an antidote to the culture of death, and that is 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 and inclusion for those who’ve entered life’s most difficult stages, or whether we will abandon them to the lethal injection and poison pills. Few controversies we face are as important, for on that question, I believe, hangs the moral future of Western civilization.
For those who want more information on euthanasia and assisted suicide, both here in the United States and around the world, I urge you to visit the website of the Patients Rights Council. I’m a paid consultant for the Patients Rights Council, but I have to say it has the most complete library of information on these topics you will find anywhere. That’s patientsrightscouncil.org, no apostrophe in the word “patients.” For those who might want a distinctly Orthodox approach to these issues, I strongly recommend the work of Fr. John Breck, B-r-e-c-k. If you’re interested in what we’ve talked about here today, particularly as they apply to current events, please visit my Human Exceptionalism blog, hosted by National Review Online, found at www.nationalreview.com. My twitter address is @forcedexit. I also invite you to check out the Center on Human Exceptionalism at the Discovery Institute, of which I am the co-director. We can be found at www.discovery.org, or I can also be contacted. My speaking schedule is arranged by Orthodox Speakers Bureau.
Finally, remember that we are all exceptional human beings, and it is up to each and every one of us to act that way.