New Euthanasia Laws Drop Illusion of “Choice”
“Even when not motivated by a selfish refusal to be burdened with the life of someone who is suffering, euthanasia must be called a false mercy, and indeed a disturbing ‘perversion’ of mercy. True ‘compassion’ leads to sharing another’s pain; it does not kill the person whose suffering we cannot bear. Moreover, the act of euthanasia appears all the more perverse if it is carried out by those, like relatives, who are supposed to treat a family member with patience and love, or by those, such as doctors, who by virtue of their specific profession are supposed to care for the sick person even in the most painful terminal stages.”
– Pope St. John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, no. 65
In a recent article in First Things, bioethicist Wesley Smith wrote the following: “[O]nce a society accepts the noxious notion that killing is an acceptable answer to human suffering, the definition of ‘suffering’ never stops expanding.”
Smith was writing specifically about euthanasia. But the same logic underlies the whole of the culture of death. The culture of death is a ravenous beast. There is never enough death to sate its appetite.
Pro-abortion activists, for instance, always push to legalize abortion by focusing almost exclusively on the extreme “hard cases” – i.e. rape, incest, and threat to the mother’s life. Abortion is needed in such cases, they say, in order to address the horrific suffering of the victimized women.
Inevitably, however, the instant the door is open a crack, pro-abortion activists break through it with a battering ram. Most countries that legalize abortion in the hard cases soon come to accept or legalize it for practically any and every reason.
In many cases, liberalizing the law isn’t even necessary: supposedly “strict” laws in time are gradually interpreted by doctors, lawyers, and judges with greater and greater latitude. Phrases such as “threat to the mother’s health” come to include “psychological health,” which can be used by creative abortionists to cover almost any imaginable case.
Euthanasia: The Poisoned Fruit of Abortion
Such, as I say, is the logic of the culture of death in the case of abortion. But Wesley Smith is right to draw our attention to how this same logic is at work right now at the end of life.
Unfortunately, even many pro-lifers who are passionate about ending the violence of abortion are far less informed or worried about the threat posed by euthanasia and assisted suicide. In many cases, this lack of concern is due to the notion that in the case of assisted suicide and euthanasia the decision is being made by consenting adults about their own life, and not for an innocent baby. Yet, the same utilitarian tactics, slogans, and anti-life mentality employed by the pro-abortion movement are successfully used by pro-euthanasia activists. We should not be surprised by the similarities since a majority of pro-euthanasia leaders have been active in the pro-abortion movement, finding that the same strategies successfully work in lobbying for euthanasia.
Pro-lifers have long pointed out that even in cases where women “choose” to abort their baby, there is often an enormous amount of pressure coming from their sexual partners, families, friends, and the broader culture. The very fact that the law even permits abortion means that unscrupulous men will feel vindicated in pushing women towards the option that just happens to absolve them from any responsibility for their actions. Law creates culture. And pro-abortion law inevitably creates a culture of coercion.
The exact same thing is true in the case of euthanasia.
Sliding down the Slippery Slope
Aging or seriously ill adults, who are no longer of any “use,” can be extremely “inconvenient,” in the same way an unborn baby can be inconvenient. Those who are responsible for caring for them must often make significant changes to their lives, sacrificing time and resources to comfort and care for the suffering and dying. Thus, pro-euthanasia supporters believe law should be designed to incentivize, as with the right to abortion, this kind of “humane caring” for the suffering, sick, and dying.
However, by opening the door, even only in “extreme” or “limited” cases, to use killing as the solution, the law instead creates a culture in which the temptation of taking the easy way out is now endorsed and even government funded. Those who care for the sick and suffering may find the idea of skipping over the whole process of natural death very tempting. That goes as much for the living relatives (who in many cases stand to inherit large sums of money or property) as for the government healthcare systems that must spend large sums of money caring for the elderly. Meanwhile, the sick and dying themselves, who are already faced with the temptation to think of themselves as nothing more than a “burden” to those closest to them, may similarly find the “shortcut” of a quick death looking a lot more tempting.
But what does it say about a country and its people, when we hold that prosperity and happiness are contingent upon the death of another human being? What does it say when we arbitrarily define whose life has value and whose life does not? Look at musician Stevie Nicks’ recent comment, “If I had not had that abortion, I’m pretty sure there would have been no Fleetwood Mac.” This sick mentality could be applied to anyone at any stage of life. Abortion happens to be legal. If euthanasia is legalized across the board, then any reason can be used to rid oneself of another human being for a “greater cause.”
The shocking statistics about so-called “involuntary euthanasia” – i.e. murder – in countries such as The Netherlands and Belgium, show that these fears are far from unfounded. In countries where euthanasia has been legalized, thousands of people are being killed either against their wishes, or when their wishes simply aren’t known. It would be extremely naive to think that the motives of those who choose euthanasia for others are always pure and compassionate. As Pope St. John Paul II wrote in Evangelium Vitae: “The choice of euthanasia becomes more serious when it takes the form of a murder committed by others on a person who has in no way requested it and who has never consented to it. The height of arbitrariness and injustice is reached when certain people, such as physicians or legislators, arrogate to themselves the power to decide who ought to live and who ought to die.”
More Extreme Euthanasia Laws in the Works
Right now, there are multiple laws being debated in various countries that show that the direst warnings of pro-life activists against legalizing euthanasia are coming true. Canada, for instance, only legalized euthanasia in 2016. Canadians were assured that it would only be permitted in extremely limited cases, and that there would be extremely strict “safeguards” to ensure that the law was not abused. Already, however, the government has introduced legislation that would massively increase the number of cases where euthanasia is permitted.
Previously the law protected persons suffering with a mental illness or a diminished capacity from the violence of euthanasia; however, Canada’s Bill C-7 would remove this restriction and allow a doctor or nurse practitioner to lethally inject a person who is incapable of consenting to the procedure. Bill C-7 would also change waiting periods for those who are requesting to be euthanized. The Bill would remove the language currently in law that stipulates that a person’s “natural death be reasonably foreseeable” to qualify for death by lethal injection. Now people who are not terminally ill can qualify.
Meanwhile, the Canadian government has been in running roughshod over freedom of conscience, requiring various hospitals and health care practitioners to provide or refer for euthanasia and assisted suicide. One courageous hospice organization, the Delta Hospice Society, has steadfastly refused to do so, at the risk of losing $1.5 million in funding. Their case is currently working its way through the Canadian court system.
Angelina Ireland, president of the board of the organization, told the Catholic News Agency in February that the hospice has “worked really hard to have the people to trust us that when they come to hospice they will not be killed. We will take care of them, they will take care of their families. And now basically the government has said that any hospice that does not provide euthanasia, it’s not allowed to exist.”
I am proud of Angelina and those who are standing up against this injustice and act of totalitarianism. So much for freedom of speech. So much for freedom of conscience. So much for freedom of religion. These values are offensive to Big Government and its authority.
Meanwhile, the Netherlands, which already has one of the most liberal euthanasia laws in the world, is currently considering even further liberalizing the law, to allow euthanasia for children aged 1-12. Previously the law only permitted euthanasia for people over the age of 16. The country then reduced the age limit to twelve. Now, there will be no age limits, since the law already allows euthanasia for infants under the age of one.
New Zealand, too, now seems to be on the brink of legalizing euthanasia. The End of Life Choice Act – on which New Zealanders voted several days ago – legalizes euthanasia and assisted suicide for anyone with a terminal illness who has been given six months or less to live. A person can be diagnosed and in four days be dead without anybody close to them knowing, and without witnesses. (Though New Zealanders already voted on the law, the result will not be known until the end of the month. However, polls pointed to a ‘yes’ vote.)
The Sinister Connection Between Contraception and Euthanasia
At the beginning of this article, I drew the connection between abortion and euthanasia. Allow death as a solution to suffering (however broadly construed) at the beginning of life, and the same logic inevitably gets put to work at the end of life. However, in reality the logic of the culture of death can be traced even further back than this.
Euthanasia and its violent mentality can be easily compared to the intrinsic evil of contraception and its mentality. This is often ignored. In Humanae Vitae, Pope St. Paul VI predicted that permitting contraception would lead to “lowering the moral standards,” treating human life as an instrument, a thing, a commodity.
Furthermore, because of a rejection of the inalienable dignity of every human life, there remains the “the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law…” Instead of using their authority to promote the common good and moral law, governments will impose radical anti-life values to “control” and subvert the population.
Father Paul Marx, O.S.B., HLI’s founder, understood the intimate connection between contraception and euthanasia. “In every country, bar none, contraception has led to abortion, and once abortion, to infanticide, the prelude to full-blown euthanasia,” he wrote in From Contraception to Abortion.
Contraception, abortion, and euthanasia are all rotten fruits of the same diseased tree. If life is unwanted in the beginning because it is inconvenient, then it makes sense that at the end of life, when a person becomes inconvenient, that we should be free to “abort” this life as well. Euthanasia would not be possible without the widespread acceptance of abortion, and the violence of abortion would not be possible without the full-throated acceptance of contraception.
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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.