NRL News

Euthanasia “has shed its aura of transgression”

by | Feb 4, 2015


By Dave Andrusko

GerbervanLoenenbookLast week we commented on a provocative column written by the National Post’s Barbara Kay, one of my favorite writers from up North.

As I explained at the time, Kay was using a book written by Dutch journalist Gerbert van Loenen to visit what physician-assisted suicide means in practice. As van Loenen writes, the Netherlands is “a unique laboratory that all the world can come and visit.”

As you may recall, after van Loenen’s partner died, he heard a lot of negative commentary from “friends.” Niek was sick for a long time, having suffered a brain injury during an operation to remove a small brain tumor. The injury left Niek “permanently disabled, yet still able to enjoy quality of life” and he died a natural death.

Without having read the book (it is being translated into English), I can only assume van Loenen was outraged.

“It would have been better if he had died,” one said at the outset. Another told Niek when he expressed frustration, “You choose to go on living, so you have no right to complain.” Kay observed, once “an average Dutchman who thought of euthanasia as one of the crown jewels of our liberal country,” van Loenen became “someone who was shocked by the harsh tone used by the Dutch when they talked about handicapped life.”

This week, Kay returns with her promised Part Two. Her opening paragraph is an absolute gem:

I return this week to the topic of my last column: Euthanasia, considered until mere decades ago an audacious, immoral notion, has shed its aura of transgression. State endorsement was pioneered in the Netherlands, then taken up by Belgium, Luxembourg and, most recently, Quebec. Assisted suicide, euthanasia with a friendlier face, is legal in the U.S. states of Washington, Oregon, Montana – and, most brazenly, in Switzerland, where ordinary citizens, not just physicians, may help one another to exit life.

“Shed its aura of transgression.” Indeed.

What van Loenen explains (as summarized by Kay) is that it is almost impossible to set any boundaries once you buy into the logic that suffering justifies killing. Quicker than you could have possibly imagined, the “autonomy” argument gets turned on its head.

It’s not you asking for “assistance,” but a raft of people (particularly physicians and family members) who look at you coldly and conclude you are better off dead. And you cannot expect the courts to protect you. “[J]udges’ rulings tend to bend the law to satisfy the zeitgeist,” Kay explains

The willingness of physicians (and judges) paves the way to involuntary euthanasia. There are (at least!) 300-1,000 instances each year where people are euthanasized without requesting it.

Kay writes that van Loenen offers up “the 22 most common arguments activists use to keep the goalposts moving.” Here are two examples:

    • the “equality argument”: if people of sound mind can request and get euthanasia, then equally miserable but incompetent patients should also have the right. This is “mercy killing,” the antithesis of “self-determination,” the alleged basis for the law; 
    • the “post-Christian” argument: euthanasia activists often assume anti-euthanasists must be Christian, and therefore their views are irrelevant. But many Protestant churches enthusiastically promote euthanasia and many in opposition are secular. In any case, why should conscience-based arguments be ineligible, when emotion-based arguments are welcome?

Take a few minutes and read Part Two. You will be struck by Kay’s insight and her brilliant explanation of just how powerful is the power of suggestion when it comes from a physician:

Suffering people usually don’t really want to die; they want surcease from pain. Physicians greatly influence their decision-making. In a 2001 interview Dutch physician Joke Groen-Evers noted that, when talking with a terminal patient, she would feel bound to bring up the subject of euthanasia: “And nine times out of 10 the patient would return with a request for euthanasia.” Finding herself more comfortable suggesting palliative care, she stopped using the “E-word.” “And what do you know: almost no one asks for it anymore! … If you mention euthanasia, they will ask for it. If you mention palliative care, then that is what they will choose.”

Categories: Euthanasia