Since When is Euthanasia “Healthcare?”
Anti-euthanasia activists have been pointing out for years that wherever euthanasia is legalized, it is not long before the “strict safeguards” touted by pro-death politicians and activists as protection to ensure euthanasia is only used in extreme cases begin tumbling down or being wantonly ignored.
Such is the logic of the Culture of Death. Once we permit the killing of the innocent as an acceptable solution to a certain problem, then suddenly there is nothing stopping us from using death to solve an ever-widening set of problems. Indeed, the temptation to use death becomes quite acute. Killing, after all, is relatively easy and cheap; whereas, solving a problem like how to care for people suffering great pain is extremely difficult and expensive.
“Euthanasia is a false solution to the drama of suffering, a solution that is not worthy of man. The real answer cannot be, in fact, to give death, as ‘gentle’ as this may be, but to testify to the love that helps us to face pain and agony in a humane way.”
— Pope Benedict XVI, February 1, 2009
The pattern is clear in countries like Belgium and the Netherlands. Legalize euthanasia for extreme cases involving adults suffering incurable terminal illness, and before long we’re: euthanizing newborn babies born with non-lethal conditions like spina bifida; euthanizing patients without their consent (I’m pretty sure that’s still called “murder”); euthanizing people suffering from mental illnesses like depression; and completely ignoring regulations requiring doctors to report cases of euthanasia, making it impossible to know whether a patient was legally euthanized, or simply murdered.
In the Netherlands, some patients are being killed because they’re “tired of living.” They’re not sick. They’re not dying. They just want to die. And rather than helping them, doctors gladly administer the lethal injection. In one case, a 47-year-old woman in the Netherlands was killed at her request because she was suffering from tinnitus – that is, the condition where a person hears a persistent “ringing” in their ears. The clinic that euthanized the woman was subsequently “reprimanded” because the doctors hadn’t fully researched whether there might be treatments that would help this woman with her problem. There might have been a treatment that could have helped her. But she’ll never find out.
Horrifying New Development in Canada
Astonishingly, while most people would likely agree with me that all of the “abuses” above are horrifying, very few people know about them, and even less speak up against them. They receive very little media attention. And when they do, they’re often presented in news articles in the form of statistics. And, as Stalin is reported to have said: “One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is just a statistic.”
However, maybe one recent development in Canada is sufficiently disturbing that it will wake some people up to what lies in wait once euthanasia is legalized.
The situation is summed up chillingly in the first sentence of an article that appeared in several Catholic newspapers. It begins: “In a prestigious medical journal, doctors from Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children have laid out policies and procedures for administering medically assisted death to children, including scenarios where the parents would not be informed until after the child dies.”
The article continues: “The Canadian Council of Academies is specifically looking at extending so-called assisted dying to patients under 18, psychiatric patients and patients who have expressed a preference for euthanasia before they were rendered incapable by Alzheimer’s or some other disease.”
Of course, by this point killing patients suffering from Alzheimer’s or psychiatric problems is old hat. But killing children without their parents’ consent? That’s something even I haven’t heard of before. And how do these prestigious doctors writing in this prestigious medical journal working at this prestigious children’s hospital justify this terrible, terrible idea?
Well, they explain with impeccable logic, euthanasia is now legal in Canada. That makes euthanasia just another form of healthcare. Canada already allows competent minors to make some decisions about healthcare without their parents’ knowledge or consent, including the decision to stop futile extraordinary care. If we’re going to be consistent, then we need to consider allowing them to make decisions about euthanasia too. As the doctors put it: “If we regard MAID [Medical Aid in Dying] as practically and ethically equivalent to other medical decisions that result in the end of life, then confidentiality regarding MAID should be managed in this same way.”
And there’s the logic of the Culture of Death in a nutshell. If (and what a big if this is!) we accept that actively killing people is “practically and ethically equivalent” to other forms of healthcare, then all manner of things that people historically considered self-evidently evil very quickly become justifiable – like having doctors kill minors without telling their parents.
The Abortion/Euthanasia Connection
Often, even pro-life people fail to see the connection between abortion and euthanasia. But the connection runs deep.
Euthanasia is always presented to the public as an act of compassion, a way to alleviate unbearable suffering for people who are already in their final days. For people who haven’t thought about the issue in a lot of depth, this argument seems quite compelling. Especially to anyone who has been at the death bed of a loved one dying from a painful illness. Euthanasia in such extreme cases only seems humane.
The same is true of abortion. Pro-abortion activists always focus on extreme cases: e.g. cases of rape, incest or life-threatening pregnancies. In fact, the woman who was the famous “Roe” in the Roe v. Wade court case that legalized abortion in the United States, Norma McCorvey, later admitted that she had lied about being raped. But the rape made a compelling story for the Supreme Court. It made abortion seem humane.
In both cases – abortion and euthanasia – killing was only supposed to be a last resort. An extreme solution for an extreme case. But as we know, that is not what happened. As soon as abortion was legalized it opened a flood-gate. Now, abortions in cases of rape or incest are only a tiny minority of all abortions. The vast majority of abortions are for “social reasons” – in other words, a quick fix. McCorvey herself later became pro-life, and lamented that the lawyers who convinced her to join the abortion case never told her: “That what I was signing would allow women to come up to me 15, 20 years later and say, ‘Thank you for allowing me to have my five or six abortions. Without you, it wouldn’t have been possible.’ Sarah [one of the lawyers] never mentioned women using abortions as a form of birth control. We talked about truly desperate and needy women, not women already wearing maternity clothes.”
When euthanasia was legalized in Canada in 2016, Canadians were told that it would just be for “terminally ill” patients. Scarcely two years later, they’re now being told they might have to accept euthanasia for their own children, or for mentally ill patients who aren’t dying, or for people who have just been diagnosed with dementia and aren’t dying. In all likelihood, there will be very little outcry. Canadians have already been conditioned to accept death as a solution. What’s a little more death?
Killing is Easy. Caring is Hard.
Euthanasia and abortion are two sides of the same coin. Once we accepted abortion as a solution to “problems” at the beginning of life, it was only a matter of time before we began to accept death as a solution to problems at the other end of life.
After all (and I’ll repeat it again): Killing is easy. Caring for people is hard.
It’s easy for a man to fork over a few hundred dollars and tell his mistress to go abort the baby that is the result of his search for selfish pleasure. It’s hard for him to man up and take responsibility for his actions. It’s easy for a national healthcare system or insurance company to save money by pressuring a patient diagnosed with dementia to opt for euthanasia. It’s hard for that healthcare system or insurance company to allocate resources to invest into research and palliative care that can alleviate suffering while respecting the dignity of every patient.
As it turns out, it’s something of a law of nature that the hard thing is often the right thing to do; and the easy thing is often also the wrong thing. One of the reasons we have criminal laws is to turn that formula on its head, to protect the common good by creating incentives to do the right thing and avoid the wrong thing. It’s easy to rob a bank and spend the rest of your life as a wealthy man. But the law makes robbing banks hard by introducing the threat of imprisonment. Bank robbery is such a serious crime that we would never consider legalizing bank robbery for “extreme cases.” The reason why is obvious. It sends the message that robbing banks is an acceptable solution to our problems. It tears down a crucial wall, and thereby creates social havoc.
If there’s anything that the past several decades have proved, it’s that when a society allows killing as a solution, it’s almost impossible to keep it to extreme cases. Legalize killing in some cases, and the incentives against killing have been removed. The finger has been pulled from the dike. The flood follows soon after. Eventually, society will not be able to defend the most vulnerable and abused.
There is an inner logic to the Culture of Death. Death leads to death. What is happening in Canada right now is not just a Canadian issue. It is a universal issue – a human issue. It will reverberate across the U.S. and beyond.
Agreeing with euthanasia and its mentality is an affirmation that, depending on the circumstances, some lives are not worth living and need to be terminated. This callous view should evoke disgust, urgency and a need for repudiation. Human life, at every stage, is sacred and no one may dispose of it at will. Every person, no matter the circumstance, has an inalienable and immutable dignity that must be defended, especially those who cannot defend themselves. If silence and indifference toward this grave threat remain, evil will grow, innocent lives will be destroyed, and the conscience of people will be further desensitized, unable to distinguish good from evil.
We Must Speak Out
I believe our response and action to these anti-life ideologies and philosophies is best summarized by St. Pope John Paul II in his letter to the bishops of world (May 19, 1991, Church Must Proclaim the Gospel of Life). Though the letter is specifically addressed to bishops, it equally applies to us, disciples of Jesus and people of good will, actively called to participate in the Great Campaign for Life:
A source of particular concern, however, is the fact that people’s moral conscience appears frighteningly confused and they find it increasingly difficult to perceive the clear and definite distinction between good and evil in matters concerning the fundamental value of human life.
However serious and disturbing the phenomenon of the widespread destruction of so many human lives, either in the womb or in old age, no less serious and disturbing is the blunting of the moral sensitivity of peoples’ consciences. Laws and civil ordinances not only reflect this confusion, but they also contribute to it. When legislative bodies enact laws that authorize putting innocent people to death and states allow their resources and structures to be used for these crimes, individual consciences, often poorly formed, are all the more easily led into error.
In order to break this vicious circle, it seems more urgent than ever that we should forcefully reaffirm our common teaching, based on sacred Scripture and tradition, with regard to the inviolability of innocent human life…. Moreover, we must encourage scientific reflection and legislative or political initiatives which would counter the prevalent “death mentality.” Through the coordinated action of all the bishops and the renewed pastoral commitment which will result, the Church intends to contribute, through the civilization of truth and love, to an ever fuller and more radical establishment of that “Culture of life,” which constitutes the essential prerequisite for the humanization of our society.
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Father Shenan J. Boquet was ordained in 1993 and is a priest of the Houma-Thibodaux Roman Catholic Diocese in Louisiana, his home state, where he served before joining HLI as its President in August 2011. Father Boquet earned a BA from Saint Joseph Seminary College, a Master of Divinity (MDiv) from Notre Dame Seminary Graduate School of Theology, a Certification Program in Health Care Ethics from the National Catholic Bioethics Center, and a Master of Science in Bioethics (MSBe) from the University of Mary in Bismarck. In 2018, Father Boquet was awarded an honorary visiting professorship by the Benedict XVI Catholic University in Trujillo, Peru. He is available for interviews and bookings on behalf of HLI by emailing email@example.com.