Thursday, 20 June 2013

Bends The Spirit

Tim Stanley writes:

Of all the social/moral questions facing us, euthanasia is one of the toughest to draw a conclusion on. On the one hand, nobody likes to think of a patient being left to suffer. As individuals we have a right to control our own way of living and, by that logic, our own way of dying.

On the other hand, there’s a worry that legalising euthanasia encourages a culture of death. Sadly, the news coming out of Belgium and the Netherlands confirms the critics' worst fears.

Belgium adopted euthanasia in 2002, one year after the Netherlands, and its laws were designed to help adults riddled with “unbearable physical or mental suffering”. Today, roughly one per cent of all deaths in Belgium are due to euthanasia – and the grounds on which it is carried out are becoming looser and looser.

As the Telegraph recently reported, two deaf brothers opted to die after they started to go blind. They were young and their condition wasn’t terminal. They couldn’t bear the thought of living alone and in darkness, which is entirely understandable – but the case bends the spirit of the original law.

Now Belgium is weighing up some changes. One would allow patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and other diseases leading to dementia to sign an agreement permitting a doctor to allow them to die when the condition enters an advanced stage – even if they appear perfectly happy and physically stable.

Another reform is to allow Belgians under 18 to choose euthanasia, too. This means that children who can’t drive, marry, vote or drink alcohol will be regarded as competent enough to decide whether or not they can die.

There’s an even more troubling development in the Netherlands. Since 2005, the Dutch have permitted doctors to euthanise minors so long as they act in accordance with a set of tight medical guidelines – 22 babies with spina bifida have been given lethal injections.

But now the Royal Dutch Medical Association (KNMG) is advising that a new test be established for euthanising the newborn: if their suffering distresses the parents.

In a recent policy document, the KNMG states that a lethal injection might be appropriate if “the period of gasping and dying persists and the inevitable death is prolonged, in spite of good preparation, and it causes severe suffering for the parents.”

The proposal might sound reasonable to some; after all the infant is their child and is already dying. But it’s surely troubling to establish as the grounds for euthanasia the emotional state of a third party.

This is killing justified not by relieving the suffering of the patient but by relieving the suffering of those around them. It is another step down that slippery slope towards making euthanasia far more common and easier to obtain than even many of its supporters would wish it to be.

This is why societies have to take a stand – in law and culture – against euthanasia. Without that stand, without a commitment to always act in defence of life, we open a space within which the potential for abuse is possible and the extension of exceptions to otherwise golden rules is potentially endless.

In Belgium and the Netherlands, everything the critics warned about is starting to come true.

1 comment:

  1. James from Durham20 June 2013 at 08:38

    Absolutely euthanasia must remain illegal and punishable. People may still decide that they should "end someone's suffering" - that's up to them but the punishments laid down will concentrate their minds. If they still want to do this, the existence of the punishments will hopefully ensure that the motivations of those who do it will be pure. As soon as there are no "consequences", all the usual mixed motives by which we all tend to act will come into play.