Michael Cook

Six lessons from death in Belgium

Michael Cook
By Michael Cook
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January 28, 2013 (Mercatornet) - They look at you with mild detachment. Not aggressive. Not friendly. Not happy. Not sad. Just detached. Two balding middle-aged Belgians with shaved heads, scruffy growth, and dark-rimmed oval glasses. The left ear of the man on the right juts out at a sharper angle. But otherwise the two faces are one face. They were the face of 45-year-old identical twins Marc and Eddy Verbessem.

Two weeks before Christmas, a doctor euthanased them at Brussels University Hospital. It was a perfectly legal procedure. All the boxes had been ticked and all the documents signed. The two men were deaf and slowly going blind as well. They had nothing to live for. They qualified. 

But nearly everyone felt that there was something inhumanly cold about a society which failed these simple men when they could see and killed them when they couldn’t.

As a paradigm case of Belgian euthanasia, it pays to examine how it unfolded and what it reveals about a legalized right to die. 

* * * * *

Marc and Eddy Verbessem were born deaf. They never married and they lived together, working as cobblers. When they discovered that they had another congenital disorder, a form of glaucoma, they asked for euthanasia. They could not bear the thought of never seeing each other again.

According to their local doctor, David Dufour, they had other medical problems as well, including debilitating back pain. "All that together made life unbearable,” he told the London Telegraph.

Their family opposed their decision. So did the local hospital. It took them nearly two years to find a doctor who was willing to administer a lethal injection under Belgium’s euthanasia law. This was Professor Wim Distelmans, a well-known euthanasia activist. He seems proud to have played a key role in "the first time in the world that a 'double euthanasia' has been performed on brothers”.

On December 14, dressed in new suits and shoes, reluctantly accompanied by their brother and their parents, they arrived for their appointment with Professor Distelmans. Dr Dufour described their final moments to the media: “They were very happy. It was a relief to see the end of their suffering. They had a cup of coffee in the hall, it went well and [they had] a rich conversation. The separation from their parents and brother was very serene and beautiful. At the last there was a little wave of their hands and then they were gone.”

But a fig leaf of smarmy words cannot hide the fact that the twins were killed by their own doctor. Even supporters of euthanasia felt uneasy. 

Lesson one: the expanding circle. Under Belgian law euthanasia is allowed if “the patient is in a medically futile condition of constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering that cannot be alleviated, resulting from a serious and incurable disorder caused by illness or accident”.

But the Verbessem brothers were not terminally ill. A doctor at their local hospital said, “I do not think this was what the legislation meant by 'unbearable suffering’". Professor Distelmans was nonchalant: “One doctor will evaluate differently than the other."

In an email interview, Jacqueline Herremans, president of Belgium's Association for the Right to Die with Dignity, told me that euthanasia should be made available to many more people:

“When we opened the debate almost 15 years ago, the first thought was for people suffering from incurable cancers. And it is still cancer which is the origin of almost 80% of the cases of euthanasia. But we must admit that suffering may exist in other circumstances. MS, ALS, Parkinson’s are obvious. But what about psychiatric disorders without any possibility of cure? What about ageing persons with several medical affections losing their autonomy and seeing no more sense to their life, knowing that tomorrow is going to be worse than today? What about Alzheimer’s patients?”

Lesson two: euthanasia-minded doctors prefer easy deaths to complicated social work. Marc and Eddy Verbessem’s problems were complex. They were shy and withdrawn. Soon they would be not only deaf but deaf and blind. It was difficult for doctors to communicate with them. The easiest way to unravel their social problems was to end them forever.

However, as deaf communities pointed out, being deaf and blind is not a death sentence. After all, America’s best-known deafblind person, Helen Keller, travelled the world, wrote books and became an ardent propagandist for socialism.  

In fact, a Canadian deafblind activist was dumbfounded. “I wonder if the deafblind Verbessem twins know…  the education that was available, the Deafblind community in Belgium around them, the tools that were out there for them to keenly acquire so that their fears of going blind would be soothed with their own amazement and comfort?” Coco Roschaert wrote on her blog.

More to the point: did the doctors who euthanased them know? Did they care?

Lesson three: safeguards are meant to be hurdled. Supporters of legalised euthanasia insist that safeguards in the legislation restrict euthanasia to the most difficult cases. In fact, it is becoming easier and easier to be euthanased in Belgium. A report published late last year by the Brussels-based European Institute of Bioethics has claimed that euthanasia is being “trivialized” and that the law is being monitored by a toothless watchdog. After 10 years of legalised euthanasia and about 5,500 cases, not one case had ever been referred to the police.

The case of the Verbessem twins also shows that the procedure is far from transparent. If a prisoner dies in jail, all the facts are made available to the public. If a patient is euthanased, the public may never even find out that it happened. For example, little is known about the health of the twins, how they communicated with the doctors who killed them, whether their social support was adequate, why another hospital had turned down their request, how much counselling they had received.

Doctors naively – or is it arrogantly? – want the public to know as little as possible. “I have been very surprised [that] there is so much interest and debate about this,” Dr Dufour said.

Lesson four: if you’re disabled, you’re in trouble. Professor Chris Gastmans, of the Catholic University of Leuven, criticised the deaths as an impoverished response to disability. "Is this the only humane response that we can offer in such situations? I feel uncomfortable here as ethicist. Today it seems that euthanasia is the only right way to end life. And I think that's not a good thing. In a society as wealthy as ours, we must find another, caring way to deal with human frailty."

Lesson five: compassionate euthanasia has a price tag. Both Eddy and Marc were charged 180 Euros each for transporting their bodies back home. This macabre detail shouldn’t surprise us. China also charges the families of the people it executes. It's called a bullet fee.

Lesson six: not enough Belgians are being euthanased but the government has a plan. In 2011, the last year for which official figures are available, 1133 people were euthanased in Belgium. A few days after the Verbessem brothers died, the government announced that it would amend the law to allow minors and people with dementia to be euthanised as well.

Michael Cook is editor MercatorNet. This article reprinted under a Creative Commons License.

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PBS defends decision to air pro-abortion documentary ‘After Tiller’

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By Dustin Siggins

Under pressure for showing the pro-abortion documentary "After Tiller" on Labor Day, PBS' "POV" affiliate has defended the decision in response to an inquiry from LifeSiteNews.

The producers of the film say their goal with the documentary, which tells the stories of four late-term abortion doctors after the killing of infamous late-term abortionist George Tiller, is to "change public perception of third-trimester abortion providers by building a movement dedicated to supporting their right to work with a special focus on maintaining their safety.” 

POV told LifeSiteNews, "We do believe that 'After Tiller' adds another dimension to an issue that is being debated widely." Asked if POV will show a pro-life documentary, the organization said that it "does not have any other films currently scheduled on this issue. POV received almost 1000 film submissions each year through our annual call for entries and we welcome the opportunity to consider films with a range of points of view."

When asked whether POV was concerned about alienating its viewership -- since PBS received more than $400 million in federal tax dollars in 2012 and half of Americans identify as pro-life -- POV said, "The filmmakers would like the film to add to the discussion around these issues. Abortion is already a legal procedure."

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"This is an issue that people feel passionately about and will have a passionate response to. We are hopeful that the majority of people can see it for what it is, another lens on a very difficult issue." 

In addition to the documentary, POV has written materials for community leaders and teachers to share. A cursory examination of the 29-page document, which is available publicly, appears to include links to outside sources that defend Roe v. Wade, an examination of the constitutional right to privacy, and "a good explanation of the link between abortion law and the right to privacy," among other information.

Likewise, seven clips recommended for student viewing -- grades 11 and beyond -- include scenes where couples choose abortion because the children are disabled. Another shows pro-life advocates outside a doctor's child's school, and a third is described as showing "why [one of the film's doctors] chose to offer abortion services and includes descriptions of what can happen when abortion is illegal or unavailable, including stories of women who injured themselves when they tried to terminate their own pregnancies and children who were abused because they were unwanted."

Another clip "includes footage of protesters, as well as news coverage of a hearing in the Nebraska State Legislature in which abortion opponents make reference to the idea that a fetus feels pain." The clip's description fails to note that it is a scientifically proven fact that unborn children can feel pain.

The documentary is set to air on PBS at 10 p.m. Eastern on Labor Day.

Kirsten Andersen contributed to this article.

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He defended ‘real’ marriage, and then was beheaded for it

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By Pete Baklinski

A Christian man was executed during the night by a high-profile ruler after making an uncompromising defense of real marriage.

The Christian, who was renowned for his holiness, had told the ruler in public that his relationship with his partner was “against the law” of God. The Christian’s words enraged the ruler’s partner who successfully plotted to have him permanently silenced.

John the Baptist was first imprisoned before he was beheaded. The Catholic Church honors him today, August 29, as a martyr and saint.

While John’s death happened a little less than 2,000 years ago, his heroic stance for real marriage is more pertinent today than ever before.

According to the Gospel of Mark, the ruler Herod had ‘married’ his brother’s wife Herodias. When John told Herod with complete frankness, “It is against the law for you to have your brother’s wife,” Herodias became “furious” with him to the point of wanting him killed for his intolerance, bullying, and hate-speech.

Herodias found her opportunity to silence John by having her daughter please Herod during a dance at a party. Herod offered the girl anything she wanted. The daughter turned to her mother for advice, and Herodias said to ask for John’s head on a platter.

Those who fight for real marriage today can learn three important lessons from John’s example.

  1. Those proudly living in ungodly and unnatural relationships — often referred to in today’s sociopolitical sphere as ‘marriage’ — will despise those who tell them what they are doing is wrong. Real marriage defenders must expect opposition to their message from the highest levels.
  2. Despite facing opposition, John was not afraid to defend God’s plan for marriage in the public square, even holding a secular ruler accountable to this plan. John, following the third book of the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 20:21), held that a man marrying the wife of his brother was an act of “impurity” and therefore abhorrent to God. Real marriage defenders must boldly proclaim today that God is the author of marriage, an institution he created to be a life-long union between one man and one woman from which children arise and in which they are best nurtured. Marriage can be nothing more, nothing less.
  3. John did not compromise on the truth of marriage as revealed by God, even to the point of suffering imprisonment and death for his unpopular position. Real marriage defenders must never compromise on the truth of marriage, even if the government, corporate North America, and the entire secular education system says otherwise. They must learn to recognize the new “Herodias” of today who despises those raising a voice against her lifestyle. They must stand their ground no matter what may come, no matter what the cost.

John the Baptist was not intolerant or a bigot, he simply lived the word of God without compromise, speaking the word of truth when it was needed, knowing that God’s way is always the best way. Were John alive today, he would be at the forefront of the grassroots movement opposing the social and political agenda to remake marriage in the image of man.

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If he were alive today he might speak simple but eloquent words such as, “It is against God’s law for two men or two women to be together as a husband and wife in marriage. Marriage can only be between a man and a woman.” 

He would most likely be hated. He would be ridiculed. He would surely have the human rights tribunals throwing the book at him. But he would be speaking the truth and have God as his ally. 

The time may not be far off when those who defend real marriage, like John, will be presented with the choice of following Caesar or making the ultimate sacrifice. May God grant his faithful the grace to persevere in whatever might come. St. John the Baptist, pray for us!

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The Wunderlich family Mike Donnelly / Home School Legal Defence Association
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German homeschoolers regain custody of children, vow to stay and fight for freedom

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

One year to the day since a team of 20 social workers, police officers, and special agents stormed a homeschooling family’s residence near Darmstadt, Germany, and forcibly removed all four of the family’s children, aged 7 to 14, a state appeals court has returned custody of the children to their parents.

The reason given for the removal was that parents Dirk and Petra Wunderlich continued to homeschool their children in defiance of a German ban on home education.

The children were returned three weeks after being taken, following an international outcry spearheaded by the Home School Legal Defense Association.

However, a lower court imposed the condition on the parents that their children were required to attend state schools in order for them to be released, and took legal custody of the children in order to prevent the family from leaving the country.

In a decision that was still highly critical of the parents and of homeschooling, the appeals court decided that the action of the lower court in putting the children in the custody of the state was “disproportional” and ordered complete custody returned to the parents, according to a statement by the HSLDA.

The Wunderlichs, who began homeschooling again when the court signaled it would rule this way, said they were very pleased with the result, but noted that the court’s harsh words about homeschooling indicated that their battle was far from over.

“We have won custody and we are glad about that,” Dirk said.

“The court said that taking our children away was not proportionate—only because the authorities should apply very high fines and criminal prosecution instead. But this decision upholds the absurd idea that homeschooling is child endangerment and an abuse of parental authority.”

The Wunderlichs are now free to emigrate to another country where homeschooling is legal, if they choose, but they said they intend to remain in Germany and work for educational freedom.

“While we no longer fear that our children will be taken away as long as we are living in Hessen, it can still happen to other people in Germany,” Dirk said. “Now we fear crushing fines up to $75,000 and jail. This should not be tolerated in a civilized country.”

Petra Wunderlich said, "We could not do this without the help of HSLDA,” but cautioned that, “No family can fight the powerful German state—it is too much, too expensive."

"If it were not for HSLDA and their support, I am afraid our children would still be in state custody. We are so grateful and thank all homeschoolers who have helped us by helping HSLDA.”

HSLDA’s Director for Global Outreach, Michael Donnelly, said he welcomed the ruling but was concerned about the court’s troubling language.

“We welcome this ruling that overturns what was an outrageous abuse of judicial power,” he said.

“The lower court decision to take away legal custody of the children essentially imprisoned the Wunderlich family in Germany. But this decision does not go far enough. The court has only grudgingly given back custody and has further signaled to local authorities that they should still go after the Wunderlichs with criminal charges or fines.”

Donnelly pointed out that such behavior in a democratic country is problematic.

“Imprisonment and fines for homeschooling are outside the bounds of what free societies that respect fundamental human rights should tolerate,” he explained.

“Freedom and fundamental human rights norms demand respect for parental decision making in education. Germany’s state and national policies that permit banning home education must be changed.

"Such policies from a leading European democracy not only threaten the rights of tens of thousands of German families but establish a dangerous example that other countries may be tempted to follow,” Donnelly warned.

HSLDA Chairman Michael Farris said that acting on behalf of the Wunderlichs was an important stand for freedom.

“The Wunderlichs are a good and decent family whose basic human rights were violated and are still threatened,” Farris said.

“Their fight is our fight," Farris stressed, "and we will continue to support those who stand against German policy banning homeschooling that violates international legal norms. Free people cannot tolerate such oppression and we will do whatever we can to fight for families like the Wunderlichs both here in the United States and abroad. We must stand up to this kind of persecution where it occurs or we risk seeing own freedom weakened.”

Visit the HSLDA website dedicated to helping the Wunderlich family and other German homeschoolers here.

Contact the German embassy in the U.S. here.

Contact the German embassy in Canada here.

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