The Netherlands admitted today that Dutch doctors have carried out euthanasia without requests from the patients or their families. The hospital where these killings took place had requested that the government promulgate a “protocol” for killing newborns they judged doomed, and the admission formed part of the request:
A hospital in the Netherlands – the first nation to permit euthanasia – recently proposed guidelines for mercy killings of terminally ill newborns, and then made a startling revelation: It has already begun carrying out such procedures, which include administering a lethal dose of sedatives.
The announcement by the Groningen Academic Hospital came amid a growing discussion in Holland on whether to legalize euthanasia on people incapable of deciding for themselves whether they want to end their lives – a prospect viewed with horror by euthanasia opponents and as a natural evolution by advocates.
Unfortunately, opponents also saw it as a natural evolution, which is why they opposed allowing euthanasia in the first place. When a society loses sight of the special nature of human life by allowing the innocent to be slaughtered for the sake of expediency, the question of where to stop cannot be answered philosophically. The answer only comes at the limit of convenience.
Much has been made of the supposed “values vote” in the last American election, probably too much, as the data on which the speculation is based is too flawed for broad assumptions. However, the euthanasia debate is completely about values: the value of human life and its meaning to human society. It is one thing for a person to take their own life, or for the family of a brain-dead relative to pull life support. What makes this different is the state apparatus taking on that decision for themselves, deciding who among the citizens supposedly under their protection has no worth and eats up too many resources to go on living. It profoundly repudiates millenia of Western thought, which teaches that individual human life has a precious — the religious would say sacred — value.
Without this value at the heart of any society, when humans are valued only for their potential production and devalued for their perceived cost, the decision to end those lives deemed inconvenient to the state comes next. At first, the state limits the killing to those who cases find the broadest acceptance: unborn fetuses, terminally ill patients, and the like. After that threshold has been crossed, the next step is for someone to promulgate a protocol for the state to make the decisions about who lives and who dies. Who becomes inconvenient? The mentally retarded. The insane. The chronically ill, especially those who have incurable communicable diseases.
How long is it until we get to the Jews? Political dissidents? Those who don’t fit a particular superficial profile, like “non-Aryans”?
I thought about this question quite a bit today, and I believe the problems stems from an aggrandisement of the state. Our founding fathers’ genius was in their understanding of the potential for evil in an overly intrusive central government. When government assumes responsibility for all of the choices in individual lives — when the central government pays all of the bills for their care, for example — then they reduce individual life to a ledger amount, a profit-and-loss statement. It opens the door to the rationing of such services in order to save resources for “the greater good”. That’s when we get Groningen Protocols — and lose our souls.
I’m reminded of the old joke about the man who offers a million dollars to a woman for her sexual favors. When she assents, he pulls out a hundred-dollar bill and gives it to her. When she throws it back at him and asks, “What kind of a girl do you think I am?”, he replies, “We’ve established what kind of girl you are. Now we’re just negotiating over the price.”
The Netherlands have determined their value of human life. The debate over the Groningen Protocol is just negotiating over the price.