By Dave Andrusko
Is there anything new to say about assisted suicide? Or is it, as Barbara Kay, a columnist for the National Post newspaper in Canada writes, just where “The slippery slopists square off against the sentimental humanitarians, and nobody changes anyone’s minds”?
Ms. Kay, from whom I always learn something important, believes there is a great deal more to be said, even though “now most people who have given the matter serious thought have settled their convictions and their mental hatches are firmly battened down.”
She cites a story that appeared at euthanasia.com that spoke volumes, the kind of true-life, soul-chilling story that perhaps can unbatten mental hatches that are not soldered in place.
First, a few words of background from her terrific op-ed, “Euthanasia’s damage to the human soul,” to put her argument in context.
Naturally, Kay pays a lot of attention to Belgium—not the only place where euthanasia is legal—“but it certainly seems the place, along with the Netherlands, where the envelope gets pushed the farthest.” The latest deadly iteration is joint suicide, where an elderly couple wishes to be “assisted” to die, not because either is terminally ill but because they fear being lonely if one of them dies first.
As Kay points out,
“Their 55-year old son John-Paul (one of three children who heartily approve of the idea, since none of them feels capable of caring for a survivor parent) approached their regular doctor to request their euthanasia, but was refused for lack of grounds. Undeterred, John-Paul found a willing doctor in more flexible Dutch-speaking Flanders, where more than 80% of Belgian euthanasias are performed (on average, five people in Belgium die by lethal injection every day).”
(In an interview, John Paul explained, “If one of them should die, who would remain would be so sad and totally dependent on us,” adding, “It would be impossible for us to come here every day, take care of our father or our mother.”)
This on the heels of the stories we have written about many times in this space. For example, twin brothers who feared going blind who were both euthanized at age 45. “A 44-year old transsexual was euthanized on the grounds of despair over an unsuccessful sex change operation,” Kay writes. “And just weeks ago, a rapist and murderer successfully petitioned for euthanasia on grounds of mental anguish.”
But in this opinion piece, Kay tells her readers, “I want to persuade you that the law changes the character of its citizens’ moral world” rather than talk about how these laws are wrong. She refers us to “Euthanasia in the Netherlands,” by Canadian Hermina Dykxhoorn, which can be found at euthanasia.com/netherlands.html. It is essential reading.
What is the conclusion Kay drew, and you will too, if you take a few minutes to read the essay about “a 1994 sojourn taken by the author in the company of her aged father to the Netherlands, his last visit there, so that he could say goodbye to his siblings”?
It came from the “disparate reactions” of the family to the report of a 50-year-old woman whose psychiatrist complied with her wish to be killed after her two sons had died.
“Ms Dykxhoorn was horrified. Her relatives didn’t even blink: ‘Their eyes were just as glazed over as if they had been watching a report of a minor traffic accident.’ When she probed them to discuss it, they were indifferent. Shouldn’t the psychiatrist have treated her for depression, she asked? ‘Well, her uncle replied, this was obviously what she wanted.’”
Euthanasia was not yet legal in the Netherlands and the doctor was charged and acquitted, “which moved the legal practice of euthanasia a giant step forward.” Kay’s conclusion is worth saving on your hard drive, it is that powerful:
“The essay goes on to describe each step – with copious facts and figures – along the way from euthanasia for ‘unbearable suffering’ to involuntary euthanasia (a distressing number over there) to, in bio-ethicist Margo Somerville’s words, ‘institutionalizing murder in the medical profession.’ It’s an excellent essay, but what haunts me most is the ‘glazed eyes’ of her uncle at learning that a sad 50-year old asked for and received death at the hands of a psychiatrist. Glazed eyes, glazed hearts, glazed souls. That’s the real slippery slope.”