When Europe coughs, America catches a cold. The legal, political and cultural landscape in the U.S. is fertile for the importation of bad legislation like a new law in Belgium that legalizes child euthanasia.
History has shown that once adopted, doctor-prescribed death escapes regulation — and the circumstances in which it is allowed grow rapidly and exponentially. In 1984, the Netherlands was the first nation to lift criminal penalties for assisted suicide. The Dutch model allowed for it only at the explicit request of the patient and to put an end to “unbearable suffering.” Despite guidelines laid down in the law and by the Royal Dutch Medical Association, abuse has been rampant.
A recent government-sponsored survey showed that more than 80% of cases went unreported — a breach of the medical guidelines — and were certified as deaths stemming from natural causes. Verifiable statistics also show the shocking reality that shortly after the decriminalization of assisted suicide in the Netherlands, the practice of involuntary euthanasia commenced. In 1990, at least 1,000 patients were given lethal injections without express consent, amounting to nearly 1% of all deaths caused that year in that country. An astonishing 0.4% of the deaths in the Netherlands as recently as 2005 were attributed to involuntary euthanasia.
The Dutch courts have also allowed for the killing of an estimated 15 to 20 newborns per year. “Dutch doctors have gone from euthanizing the terminally ill to the chronically ill, to people with serious disabilities, to the emotionally and mentally ill” (Wesley Smith, National Review, 2011). Belgium has followed this exact radical trajectory and, like the Netherlands, has moved on to minors.
Belgium legalized doctor-prescribed death in 2002. Abuse has now become epidemic, with statistics suggesting that the rate of involuntary euthanasia deaths in Belgium is three times higher than in the Netherlands. In the decade since Belgium legalized euthanasia, there has been a 500% increase in euthanasia deaths.
A recent study found that in one region of Belgium, 66 of 208 “euthanasia” deaths occurred in the absence of a request or consent. The reasons for the lack of consent included that the patient was unconscious or had dementia, or because the physicians felt that euthanasia was “clearly in the patient’s best interest” and discussing it with the patient would have been “harmful” for the patient.
Other jurisdictions which allow euthanasia have equally startling statistics. Switzerland released a report on assisted-suicide deaths for the first time in 2009; they revealed a shocking 700% rise in cases from 1998-2009. Moreover, these stats only relate to Swiss residents. Five facilities in Switzerland annually allow 550-600 people to kill themselves.
Despite the fact that intergovernmental bodies like the U.N. and the Council of Europe have sharply criticized the practice of euthanasia in Europe, it continues to grow at an epidemic rate.
In the U.S., assisted suicide is legal in Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Vermont. Time will tell if those states will follow the same pattern of abuse prevalent in Europe. One thing is certain: The same cultural paradigms are at play in both Europe and the U.S., redefining human dignity to take on a philosophically utilitarian meaning — that death goes hand-in-hand with personal autonomy and quality of life. This misguided approach is certainly nothing new and has become the public motto for the culture of death.
A 2006 Royal College of Physicians study shows the clear correlation between the desire for assisted suicide and depression. The study also reports that, with the proper medical and psychiatric treatment, more than 98% of these patients would withdraw their request for assisted suicide. Clearly, doctor-prescribed death is not about care, compassion or personal autonomy. It’s a practice that plagues the most vulnerable in society under the false idol of “choice” when, in reality, choice is often withheld.
The U.S. Supreme Court and many state supreme courts have looked to international jurisprudence for guidance. Worryingly, the instances of “rights” being created from the bench by courts citing foreign precedent has been on the rise since the Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas — a case in which the high court cited European Court of Human Rights case law.
The expansion of doctor-prescribed death to children in Belgium is the loudest and most brutal cough to come out of Europe in some time. If America stands too close, its children risk catching something far more deadly than a cold.
Roger Kiska is senior legal counsel at the Vienna, Austria, office of Alliance Defending Freedom, an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that defends religious freedom, the sanctity of life, marriage and the family.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.