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Euthanasia: Hitting the Bottom of the Slippery Slope Print E-mail
By George J. Marlin   
Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Shortly after Hitler’s army invaded Poland in 1939, he empowered German doctors to employ involuntary assisted-suicide measures. Six euthanasia centers were opened and given the euphemistic designation, Charitable Foundations for Institutional Care. As the name of the centers suggests, killing was rationalized as a compassionate act.

The Nuremberg Trials revealed that this initial program, confined to Germany, was responsible for the deaths of at least 70,000 adults and 5,000 children, although other estimates are as high as 400,000. The program was terminated by Hitler’s orders in 1941 because there was genuine opposition throughout the Reich.

August von Galen, the Catholic Bishop of Munster had the greatest public impact when he denounced the euthanasia policies from the pulpit in 1941: 

If you establish and apply the principle that you can “kill” unproductive human beings, then woe betide us all when we become old and frail! If one is allowed to kill unproductive people, then woe betide the invalids who have used up, sacrificed, and lost their health and strength in the productive process. . . . Poor people, sick people, unproductive people, so what? Have they somehow forfeited the right to live? Do you, do I have the right to live only as long as we are productive? . . . Nobody would be safe anymore. Who could trust his physician?  It is inconceivable what depraved conduct, what suspicion would enter family life if this terrible doctrine is tolerated, adopted, carried out. 
There were also public protests – a rarity in Nazi Germany.

The Nazi’s answer was to move the programs to the conquered eastern nations where they folded into the Final Solution. Involuntary assisted suicide became the prescribed “medical means” to eliminate not only the actually infirm, but also Jews, Gypsies, and Slavs who were considered “diseased” races.

After World War II, the assisted-suicide movement went underground. By the 1960s and 1970s, however, it was making a comeback, prompting Malcolm Muggeridge to say:  “For the Guinness Book of Records, you can submit this: that it takes about thirty years in our humane society to transform a war crime into an act of compassion.”

Thus did the Euthanasia Education Council change its name to Concern for Dying, Inc.; and the Euthanasia Society of America became the Society for the Right to Die, Inc. Other organizations appeared, including Choice in Dying.

It’s quite disturbing that nations bordering Germany that witnessed Hitler’s gruesome policies – Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg – have legalized euthanasia and have enshrined it as a fundamental human right.

             The sense of this Nazi poster: Why spend taxpayer money on “undesireables”?

Since the 1970s, Dutch courts have expanded time and again the pool of candidates for euthanasia. By the early 1990s, the judiciary was permitting assisted suicide for psychiatric patients who were physically fit. In one case, a psychiatrist was judged not guilty of assisting in a suicide of a physically healthy individual because the court concluded that the patient, although suffering from a mental illness, was competent and completely free to make the choice to die. The court deemed that it would be discriminatory to permit assisted suicide only in cases of people who suffer only physically. Psychological pain or even unhappiness cannot be excluded as valid reasons for suicide.

Dutch courts have ruled that when a doctor’s conscience is in conflict with the law he is permitted to prescribe euthanasia to relieve suffering. This is justified as an example of a force majeure – an unforeseen course of events that abrogates the usual legal necessities.

In a Wall Street Journal article last week (“For Belgium’s Tormented Souls, Euthanasia-Made-Easy Beckons”), Naftali Bendavid reports that euthanasia, which became legal there in 2002, has grown from 200 cases in 2002 to 1,133 in 2011.

At present, Mr. Bendavid discovered, “Belgian law reserves euthanasia for patients with unbearable suffering and incurable conditions. But the suffering need not be physical and the condition need not be fatal. The law also doesn’t require the patient to notify the family.”

To make matters worse, the Belgian legislature is expected to approve a law that would permit minors who are ill to be euthanized “if a psychiatrist determines the child has a capacity for discernment” and “if their parents agree.”

The Patients Rights Council commented, “If it is good medical treatment to end suffering, why deny it to a 3-year old, a 5-year old, an 8-year old?”

In reply, the Archbishop of Brussels, Andre Leonard, said, “Minors are . . . considered legally incapable of certain acts, for example, buying or selling, marrying and so on. And here all of a sudden they’re sufficiently mature in the eyes of the law to ask someone to take their lives?”

Belgium and Holland have reached the bottom of the slippery slope. They are willfully killing the unborn, the unwell, the young, the old – all in the name of compassion.

John Paul II was already warning in his 1995 encyclical, The Gospel of Life:

Even when not motivated by a selfish refusal to be burdened with the life of someone who is suffering, euthanasia must be called a false mercy, and indeed a disturbing “perversion” of mercy. True “compassion” leads to sharing another’s pain; it does not kill the person whose suffering we cannot bear. Moreover, the act of euthanasia appears all the more perverse if it is carried out by those, like relatives, who are supposed to treat a family member with patience and love, or by those, such as doctors, who by virtue of their specific profession are supposed to care for the sick person even in the most painful terminal stages.

If we fail to maintain a sense of the sacredness of human life until its natural end – and right now Obamacare seems to be tending in that direction – don’t be surprised if our own hospitals and nursing homes turn into “compassionate” slaughterhouses. 

George J. Marlin is an editor of The Quotable Fulton Sheen and the author of The American Catholic VoterHis most recent book is Narcissist Nation: Reflections of a Blue-State Conservative.
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (12)Add Comment
written by Ib, June 25, 2013
Our English word "compassion" has become quite slippery in the past 30 years. Social engineering types (mostly Democrats, but a few others as well) have glommed onto the word to justify the humanly destructive processes they seek to inflict on others in order to make society more "rational." So even those opposing abortion are pressed to allow it in the cases of rape or incest due to "compassion" for the unfortunate pregnant women. Euthanasia must be permitted as "compassion" for those who burden the health care system with costs. Some of the people must be oppressed in the name of "compassion" so that others may maintain their power and wealth.

I recall the first time I had a funny feeling about all this unCatholic, uncharitable "compassion": I was handed Matthew Fox's book "A Spirituality Named Compassion" and looked inside. At that moment, I knew the word "compassion" was done for.
written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, June 26, 2013
The old law was very different. In his Commentaries on the Law of Scotland, Respecting Crimes, published in 1797, David Hume (the nephew of the philosopher), our leading “Institutional Writer” on criminal law says, “But if breathing once has begun, it is immaterial how frail may be the tenure by which life is held, or how worthless the existence which is terminated... A child which is only a minute old, or an old man on the brink of the grave are equally entitled to have their lives protected by the pains of murder; for it belongs to the Supreme Disposer of events, not any human hand, to determine the duration of life or prolong its thread.”
written by Maggie-Louise, June 26, 2013
In a comment on another website was a reference to "The Terrors of the Year Two Thousand" by Etienne Gilson (a web search will probably turn it up), published in 1949. It is a mere 16 pages and takes but a short time to read.

@lb: Gilson didn't specifically address the corruption of language (one of my favorite topics), but it certainly falls under his general heading, "a reversal of values", which is what he warned against.
written by Athanasius, June 26, 2013
It naturally follows that once the state grows large to "take care" of people, it decides that some of those people are not worth taking care of. This exposes the lie that these elite claim to want government control because they care about people. What they want is control, to be gods, and if there are only so many resources to provide for their leadership perks, then the weak who are competitors for those resources need to be eliminated.

It is ironic that "cruel, cold" capitalism actually is more humane to the weak by 1.Providing a system that actually creates more wealth that can be spread around, and 2.Building the dignity of the person by providing more opportunities for productive work.

As I anticipate the usual suspects to criticize my support for capitalism, let me state that I do not support extremes in either direction, and capitalism must be tempered by virtue and charity. But give me capitalism over socialism any day in terms of protecting and helping more of the weak.
written by ron a., June 26, 2013
This "compassion" (a rejection of suffering) is anti-Christian. I would suggest (no, state) that the truest way to SANCTITY is through suffering. This was the way of Christ and Christ is the "way and the truth". He exhorts each follower to "take up his cross"....

Authentic compassion is an attitude; suffering is an act. The Secular world will accept one, but reject the other. Christianity embraces both--but exalts suffering. "From on high He will draw all unto Himself."

Truth be told, most live before man, not God, in this NATURAL world. And man, naturally, rejects suffering. Even among Christians, the Truth of the Cross and the meaning of suffering are subjects commonly avoided. Unfortunately, Truth remains concealed to those who refuse to look. And understanding is of no concern.
written by Mack Hall, June 26, 2013

Blessed John Paul II, pray for us.
written by Ib, June 26, 2013

Thanks for the Gilson reference. He was truly one of the giants of the intellectual life in the last century. A brilliant mind, dynamic worker, committed to St Thomas Aquinas and the Roman Catholic Church. We owe him more than we know.

In 1969, he wrote a book, "Linguistique et philosophie" which was translated into English in 1988 as "Linguistics and Philosophy: An Essay on the Philosophical Constants of Language" in which he wrestles with the problems of change in the meaning of philosophical terms. At the time, he was facing the growing post-war influence in France of thinkers like Heidegger, Sartre and Camus, but also the reaction against them in philosophers like Emmanuel Levinas. The book establishes the necessity of the careful use of language for philosophical writing, especially with respect to understanding past thinkers.

I really should dig it out again and consult it WRT these issues. Alas, I don't own it and it has become a rare and expensive book ...
written by Maggie-Louise, June 27, 2013

This was the first work of Gilson that I have read. He truly was a prophet if one defines a prophet as one who can pursue an idea to its logical conclusion.

I will have to find more of his work.
written by Layman Tom, June 27, 2013
Maggie-Louise, that was a Very timely reference. I found it online; it was a good read. I find it interesting that both that work and Orwell's 1984 were published in the same year, 1948. Were these men truly prescient, or has the problem of newspeak and that which it serves, namely the mental subjugation of society, been brewing for longer than we might think?

The bastardization of words’ meanings has bothered me for a long time. At best, it is just ignorance or trendiness, but at its worst, it is the most insidious form of social engineering. It won’t be long before folks like us, who think in these doubleplusungood ways will need to whisper in the shadows while all the “tolerant” people go gaily on their way in the light of day. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
written by Ib, June 27, 2013

Sorry about writing "Marie" ... Just a slip ...

Thank you for referencing Gilson's "The Terrors of the Year Two Thousand". I had not read it before. It strikes me as unlike anything I have read from him before. There is a passionate urgency in this essay that generally isn't in his more scholarly work. I only write this so that you won't be expecting all of his writing to be like this essay.

It would be great if you could read more Gilson. Although he was the leading medievalist of his time, and especially expert at the teaching and times of St. Thomas Aquinas, he also wrote many books meant for a mass readership. A good place to begin is his "The Elements of Christian Philosophy". It was the standard text for Intro to Philosophy in Catholic Colleges for many years, prior to Vatican II. There are also a few good websites on Gilson, but you'll have to search for them yourself ... TCT won't allow embedded links in a comment ... Google books has several of his books almost completely scanned and online ...
written by Maggie-Louise, June 27, 2013

Thank you for your advice re: reading "Beginning Gilson." The writer of the Foreword did say that this short book was more of a prose-poem, not strictly prose. It is beautifully written in elegant style.

I will check in with the Loome Book Sellers to see whether they have any Gilson titles.

I like the name Marie. I have a famous ancestor by marriage, Marie de Rabutin-Chantal marquise de Sevigne. My mother called me Maggie when I was being a naughty, difficult-to-get-along-with child, and it always worked magic on my behavior.
written by Kaye, July 01, 2013
I remember after Roe v. Wade was declared in the USA that many people said euthanasia for everyone was next. They were hooted at and labeled extremists. But they were exactly correct.

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