Euthanasia: Hitting the Bottom of the Slippery Slope

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, Chairman of the Board of Aid to the Church in Need USA, is the author of The American Catholic Voter and Sons of St. Patrick, written with Brad Miner. His most recent book is Mario Cuomo: The Myth and the Man.