During the Christmas season, when many celebrate a unique and miraculous birth, what the late Pope John Paul II called "a culture of death" continues its march.
Last week, the upper house of the Belgian Senate voted to extend a 2002 law legalizing euthanasia for adults so that it includes incurably ill children. The amended law will now have to be voted on by the Parliament's lower house, a vote expected to take place before elections in May, but if passed, writes The New York Times, children afflicted with "constant and unbearable physical suffering" and "equipped with a capacity for discernment" could then be legally euthanized in Belgium.
Reports The Times, "Els Van Hoof, a Christian Democrat from Belgium's Dutch-speaking community, argued that paying more attention to relieving the pain of patients instead of allowing doctors to legally kill them would 'allow both old and young to die with dignity.' A 10-year-old, she said, is not in a position to make a life-or-death decision 'in an autonomous manner' and will invariably be vulnerable to pressure."
If the bill becomes law, Belgium would be the first European nation to allow the euthanasia of terminally ill children. In the Netherlands, where euthanasia has been legal since 2002 when the "Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide Act" took effect, a recent poll published in the Journal of Medical Ethics found that of 2,000 Dutch people polled, 21 percent believe euthanasia should be allowed for those who are suffering from no illnesses, but who are simply "tired of living."
If everyone who has even momentarily felt tired of living were subject to euthanasia, Earth might soon resemble a ghost planet.
Europe, which has become more secular in recent years, could be a bellwether down the road for the United States if Obamacare survives its many dysfunctions and the Independent Payment Advisory Board, charged with controlling health care costs. Based on this system, could the IPAB one day determine who gets treatment and who doesn't based on actuarial tables and cost projections? Could there come a time when it could conceivably decide how much a human life is worth?
Absent a standard for life's value, the state could get to decide based on its interests. In the extreme we get Stalin's Russia with its forced famine, gulags and executions; Mao's China and the cultural revolution; Germany's Third Reich and its "Final Solution"; and slavery in America with its Three-Fifths Compromise, which, for representation purposes, determined that slaves would be counted not as full human beings but as "three-fifths of all other Persons."
The Articles of Confederation were written a decade after Thomas Jefferson declared, "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights." It would be nearly a century later before the Civil War led to the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves, and another century before civil rights legislation recognized those "endowed" rights.
The distinction is important. The federal government did not grant rights to African-Americans. It recognized rights endowed by their creator. It is when nations depart from this noble creed that we get abortion on demand, infanticide for the "defective" and "unwanted," and now euthanasia. Removing protection at one end of life inevitably threatens all life at every stage.
It is more than ironic that a group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project has made it their mission to "change the common law status of at least some nonhuman animals from mere 'things,' which lack the capacity to possess any legal right, to 'persons,' who possess such fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty." Bodily liberty? Based on what?
Three New York courts have so far rejected the NRP's efforts, but give it time. Society may soon devolve even further than it has already.
This is the problem when humanity does not accept an authority higher than itself, an authority that holds life - all life, however inconvenient, however tiresome - infinitely valuable. But if we consider ourselves nothing more than evolutionary accidents in an impersonal universe, then we are all potentially vulnerable, depending on the value assigned to us by the state.