With a bow towards Hegel, if the right to be killed is the thesis, then the right to kill is the antithesis.
The synthesis is the vastly discounted cost of human life and the debauchment of its sanctity as a general principle. But, on the plus side, it widens the worship of consumer choice, the true religion of modernity.
Like all rights, especially bogus ones, the right to perform euthanasia can be both used and abused. Note that I’m not imposing on anyone my view that this ‘right’ constitutes an abuse ipso facto. I’m merely commenting on the vicissitudes of human nature.
When people are liberated from reasonable constraints, before long they’ll reach out for unreasonable licence. Tell a 10-year-old he can have a glass of wine with dinner, and he’ll grab five when the grown-ups aren’t looking. Tell ethnic groups they must protest against discrimination, and they’ll end up demanding privilege. Tell a woman that a comment on her looks breaks some nebulous moral law, and she’ll sue everyone in sight.
Extending the same observation to the subject in hand, when doctors are given the power to kill within a certain rigid framework, the inexorable pull of human nature will encourage them to expand the framework, making it more and more elastic.
Such is the warning issued to his British colleagues by Dr Bert Keizer, Holland’s prominent practitioner of euthanasia. Now, when someone like Dr Keizer is lecturing British medics on this subject, you know we’re in trouble.
That’s like Julius Streicher pronouncing on racial sensitivity, Lenin on the inviolability of private property, or Elton John on marriage. Listeners would be likely to consider the source and then ignore the message. Yet this message should be heeded.
In 2002 Holland became the first country to legalise euthanasia for consenting terminally ill patients. However, says Dr Keizer, “Every time a line was drawn, it was also pushed back.”
Specifically, it was pushed far enough back to compromise both the consenting and the terminally ill parts of that requirement. One example from a couple of years ago:
A woman of 74 suffering from Alzheimer’s decided to be euthanised. In preparation, the doctor put a sleeping pill into her coffee, and the woman dropped off. But when she woke up, she decided she didn’t want to die after all and began to kick and scream. But she was overpowered and killed anyway.
At about the same time a Dutch health official proudly stated that 92 per cent of the 6,000-odd patients euthanised that year actually were terminally ill. No one saw fit to ask about the remaining eight per cent, some 500 people who could have lived many more years.
Dr Keizer laments that legalised euthanasia is steadily moving towards “random killing of the defenceless”. Dutch doctors are now doing the job of the Dignitas suicide factory by killing even healthy people who simply don’t feel like living any longer.
Disabled children and prisoners serving long sentences will soon be culled en masse, fears Dr Keizer, and surely he’s right. Doctors these days claim the divine power of deciding who deserves to live and who doesn’t.
At the same time, many patients, schooled in the sanctity of consumer choice as the only sacred notion, demand that deadly syringe as of right. I didn’t choose to be brought into this world, they claim with a certain deficit of logic.
They don’t realise that the argument is self-refuting. Precisely because they didn’t choose to be born, they shouldn’t choose to die – and they certainly shouldn’t be assisted in acting on that macabre choice.
All this goes to show what happens to man when he is no longer subject to any discipline other than his own desires. All links connecting him with reason are severed, and he is cast adrift in an endless sea bubbling with infinite personal choices.
Life and death become products for sale, with everyone cast in the role of customer and, in this case, doctors acting as helpful assistants. That’s the stuff of erstwhile dystopic fantasies, now miraculously transformed into everyday reality.
The slippery slope that incomprehensibly vexes the Dutch merchant of euthanasia is getting ever steeper. Dr Keizer stops his train of thought halfway to its destination: when euthanasia becomes legal, at some point it’ll become compulsory.
I hope that the 1961 Suicide Act, according to which a doctor helping someone to die can get up to 14 years in prison, will never be repealed by our Parliament. This hope will likely prove forlorn: we no longer have any philosophical and moral ramparts protecting the sanctity of human life.
Without such bastions, we are at the mercy of the zeitgeist and its champions. And modern zeitgeist is a wind blowing in one direction only, if at varying strengths.