THE EDITOR: I am in London at the moment and have been involved in discussions about an official report that has revealed that “the annual number of euthanasia cases across all age groups has multiplied almost fivefold in ten years. The practice was legalised in Belgium in 2003 – a year after the Netherlands…
“While the Netherlands does not allow children under 12 to choose death, Belgium’s decision in 2014 to extend its euthanasia laws to all minors provoked outrage in the country and internationally… Many religious groups argued the country’s laws ‘trivialise’ death and went a ‘step too far.’”
Statistics from Belgium’s Federal Commission for the Control and Evaluation of Euthanasia highlights the fact that “of the 4,337 to opt for assisted dying in Belgium in 2016/17, most were cancer patients. However 710 were largely elderly people who suffered from a series of comparatively minor conditions such as blindness and incontinence.”
Seventy-seven had mental and behavioural difficulties, three were children under 18 years, and 19 were youth between 18-29 years. In February, neurologist Dr Ludo Vanopdenbosch resigned from the commission in protest at the unchecked killings of dementia patients.
In July a doctor was reprimanded by the Dutch medical complaints board for carrying out euthanasia on a 74-year-old woman with dementia, despite her resistance. He may face criminal prosecution. As reported:
“The woman refused a cup of coffee containing a sedative and when she struggled, the doctor asked her husband and daughter to hold her down so she could insert a drip containing the lethal injection… Dutch prosecutors are investigating five other cases of euthanasia suspected of potentially breaking the strict rules.”
Euthanasia and assisted suicide are legal in a number of other countries. Pope Francis has pointed to “the increasing demand for euthanasia as an ideological affirmation of man’s will to have power over life… Human life, from conception until natural death, possesses an intangible dignity.” He says that euthanasia is promoted “when a life isn’t evaluated based on dignity, but on its efficiency and productivity.”
Catholic News Service (June 2016) reported on his concerns that “growing acceptance of euthanasia does not indicate increased compassion, but highlights the rise of a selfish ‘throwaway culture’ that casts aside the sick, the dying, and those who do not satisfy the perceived requirements of a healthy life… In a culture that is increasingly ‘technological and individualistic,’ some tend to ‘hide behind alleged compassion to justify killing a patient… True compassion does not marginalise, humiliate or exclude.’”
On May 5, 1980, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a Declaration on Euthanasia, which states it is a “crime against life.” It is defined as “an action or omission which of itself or by intention causes death, in order that all suffering may in this way be eliminated.” The sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person are the foundation of a moral vision for society.
Paras 2276-2279 of the Catholic Catechism states: “…those whose lives are diminished or weakened deserve special respect… Whatever its motives and means, direct euthanasia consists in putting an end to the lives of handicapped, sick, or dying persons. It is morally unacceptable.”
In November 2017, Pope Francis reminded us that “from an ethical standpoint,” withholding or withdrawing excessive or inappropriate medical treatment “is completely different from euthanasia, which is always wrong, in that the intent of euthanasia is to end life and cause death” (Catholic Herald).
Our Catechism states that palliative care as a “special form of disinterested charity should be encouraged” (para 2279).
Remember, “what a sick person needs, besides medical care, is love, the human and supernatural warmth with which the sick person can and ought to be surrounded by all those close to him or her, parents and children, doctors and nurses” (Declaration on Euthanasia).