It has been almost ten years since the Dutch parliament voted to legalize euthanasia. While the Netherlands became the first country to grant state sanction to a mercy killing, doctors the world over have long quietly colluded in the "good death" of the terminally ill or those in extreme suffering. The BBC reported that the 1 April 2002 -- April Fool's Day -- law set the following parameters for Dutch mercy killings:
Patients must face a future of unbearable, interminable suffering
Request to die must be voluntary and well-considered
Doctor and patient must be convinced there is no other solution
A second medical opinion must be obtained and life must be ended in a medically appropriate way
The patient facing incapacitation may leave a written agreement to their death
However, the march of progress has not stopped here. Last month the Daily Caller reported that the Dutch Medical Association sought to "expand the definition of who may qualify for assisted suicide — including for the first time such nonmedical factors as loneliness and financial struggles." The article entitled "Netherlands looks to expand euthanasia grounds to include lonely, poor" printed by Washington-based news website stated:
“Many older people have various afflictions that are not actually life-threatening but do make them vulnerable,” wrote the KNMG in a ten-year study report published in October.
“Vulnerability stems not only from health problems and the ensuing limitations, but also the measure in which people have social skills, financial resources and a social network. Vulnerability has an impact on quality of life and on prospects for recovery, and can lead to unbearable and lasting suffering.”
Prior to publishing the study results, the KNMG polled its members online. More than 68 percent agreed with the statement that doctors should be “permitted to factor in vulnerability, loss of function, confinement to bed, loneliness, humiliation and loss of dignity” when determining whether a patient is a good candidate for euthanasia.
This was followed by an article in the 7 Dec 2011 issue of the Telegraph that reported the Dutch government was considering allowing doctors to kill patients in their homes. The article entitled "Mobile euthanasia teams being considered by Dutch government" reported:
In a written answer to questions from Christian Union MPs [Health Minister Edith Schippers] said that mobile units "for patients who meet the criteria for euthanasia but whose doctors are unwilling to carry it out" was worthy of consideration.
"If the patient thinks it desirable, the doctor can refer him or her to a mobile team or clinic," the minister wrote.
In her written answer Ms Schippers suggested that "extra expertise" could be summoned in complicated cases involving mental health problems or an inability to consent to euthanasia because of dementia.
In the space given to the story, the Telegraph's reporter does a nice job in raising the moral issues, providing comments from anti-euthanasia activists as well as a government promise that euthanasia will not be abused. It is disquieting though to read:
Dutch medics have been accused of practising euthanasia on demand.
A total of 21 people diagnosed as having early-stage dementia died at the hands of their doctors last year, according to the 2010 annual report on euthanasia.
The figures from last year also showed another year-on-year rise in cases with about 2,700 people choosing death by injection compared to 2,636 the year before.
This is extraordinary. A patient at home whose doctor will not kill him, will be sent another doctor by the government to put them down -- and if the patient has dementia and therefore is incapable of meeting the second Dutch death criteria, the request to die must be voluntary and well-considered -- an expert will decide. Added to this the Dutch doctors demand that they be allowed to kill those who are unhappy, poor or lonely -- I'm very tempted to play the Nazi card.
One of the unofficial rules I have picked up over the years is that whoever plays the Nazi or Hitler card looses the argument. They are no longer making a reasonable argument but making an appeal to sentiment and horror. And when the topic is euthanasia, the murders by Nazi doctors of 75,000 people including 5000 children deemed racially, mentally or physically unfit, is apt to arise. However, I think playing the Nazi card is wrong in this case too, as it detracts from the moral issue at hand -- the problem of euthanasia is not that it might be abused, but that it will be used.
By allowing the killing of people who are not considered fit to live, we are adopting a view of humanity that reduces existence to the balancing of pain and pleasure. Life is worth living when pleasure is greater than pain. This view of life makes irrelevant many of the traits and characteristics of our humanity. Virtue, duty, courage, honor and even love play no part in this animalistic calculus. It is moral nihilism.
What struck me as I read the Daily Caller and Telegraph articles was that although the story arc and tone of the pieces evidenced a dislike of the Dutch way of death -- there was little attempt at raising moral or faith objections. It was as if these issues were irrelevant to the story. I am loathe to fault these two stories for this gap in their coverage as I believe Western society is fast reaching the point where moral nihilism is the norm.
These two pieces bring to mind P.D. James 1991 novel The Children of Men -- which describes a world where no children have been born for 25 years because men have become infertile. It brings home the terrible implications of this world where mankind has no future. Violence increases as life grows meaningless. “Freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom from boredom,” these are the goals of life. Euthanasia is achieved through a paid incentive program and to the sound of violins, the aged and infirm board ferries that sink in the sea.
How did mankind come to such a place? The protagonist, Theo Faron, writes in his journal:
Much of this I can trace to the early 1990s: the search for alternative medicine, the perfumed oils, the massage, the stroking and anointing, the crystal-holding, the non-penetrative sex. Pornography and sexual violence on film, on television, in books, in life, had increased and became more explicit but less and less in the West we made love and bred children. It seemed at the time a welcome development in a world grossly polluted by over-population. As a historian I see it as the beginning of the end.
And what does religion say to this sterile world? Faron writes:
During the mid-1990s the recognized churches, particularly the Church of England, moved from the theology of sin and redemption to a less uncompromising doctrine: corporate social responsibility coupled with a sentimental humanism. [The Churches] virtually abolished the Second Person of the Trinity together with His cross, substituting a golden orb of the sun in glory .. Even to unbelievers like myself, the cross, stigma of the barbarism of officialdom and of man’s ineluctable cruelty, has never been a comfortable symbol.
No, I am not asking for a treatment of the problem of pain from the Telegraph. I am bemoaning the state of our culture such that the world painted in James' dystopian novel appears to be quite like our own -- and that the killing of the aged, unfit and infirm by the state has become regrettable, but unremarkable.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.