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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Congressman: Give us Nucatola or we’ll subpoena

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By Ben Johnson

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 23, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) - Dr. Deborah Nucatola has become awfully shy since she became the first national Planned Parenthood figure featured in an exposé of its practice of harvesting, and allegedly profiting from the sale of, the organs of aborted children. Within hours of the video release by the Center for Medical Progress, she removed her social media accounts. 

Now, she is considering dodging a call to testify before a Congressional committee investigating whether she admitted to breaking the law during her covertly recorded cameo with actors posing as agents of a human biologics company.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee called her to address the committee by month's end. 

Roger K. Evans, Planned Parenthood's Senior Counsel for Law and Policy, responded by saying that asking her to speak to Congress "no later than July 31 ... is short notice given the number of questions raised." 

He instead offered to substitute Dr. Raegan McDonald-Mosley in Nucatola's place.

Faced with the possibility that Planned Parenthood would refuse to send its star witness, at least one congressman has said he will take steps to ensure the abortion provider shows up.

Rep. Joe Pitts, R-PA, responded to Evans' letter by saying that the committee has called Dr. Nucatola to the witness stand before the end of the month, and she will comply or face the consequences.  

“If they say no, we’ll subpoena her,” the pro-life Republican said. 

The committee is focused on whether the process Dr. Nucatola - the doctor seen in the first video, eating salad and sipping wine - amounts to a violation of federal felony law forbidding the sale of human organs for "valuable consideration." 

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Why selling ‘baby body parts’ has captured America’s attention (VIDEO)

By Pete Baklinski

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 23, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) - A key player in last week’s startling video exposé of Planned Parenthood says that it took 30 months of strategic planning from numerous pro-life organizations to give the story the hard-hitting power with which it has walloped the abortion industry over its practice of harvesting the body parts of aborted babies. 

“We are seeing the fruit of a lot of careful thought, a lot of disciplined activities, and a lot of undercover work,” Rev. Frank Pavone, executive director of Priests for Life, told LifeSiteNews in an interview in Washington. 

Since breaking Tuesday of last week, the story has trended first place in social media platforms such as Facebook and has been given top priority on mega news aggregation websites such as Drudge Report. The first of now two undercover videos has been viewed over 2.5 million times on YouTube. 

Pavone said that this is not the first time Planned Parenthood has faced the heat for what many considered to be a barbaric practice of harvesting human organs for profit. Similar investigations in the late 1990s into the practices of Planned Parenthood found that aborted babies were being dissected alive, harvested, and sold in pieces for research. 

“Now this is fresh evidence. Now this is evidence going to the highest levels of Planned Parenthood. We know that people at the national level of Planned Parenthood are aware of and are admitting that these baby body parts are being harvested, that transactions are taking place, that money is changing hands. And so, this is catching the attention of the American public because it brings the abortion issue down from the abstract level to the concrete,” he said. 

“This is not just about viewpoints, it’s about victims. It’s not just about beliefs, it’s about bloodshed. When people see and hear terms like ‘eyes, livers, hearts’ it’s like, ‘What are we talking about here? This is ghoulish disgusting activity,’” he said. 

Pavone praised pro-life activists such as Operation Rescue president Troy Newman and Life Dynamics president Mark Crutcher for helping the exposé along, giving “strategic input, guidance, and advice.” Pavone highlighted the hard work of lead investigator David Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress for going undercover to film meetings with high profile Planned Parenthood employees and attending numerous Planned Parenthood conferences.

Pavone believes the story has received so much traction in social media outlets like Facebook because it gives people a platform to express outrage over the injustice of abortion in response to mainstream media’s unwritten rule of silence and apathy on abortion. 

Traditional media outlets are “in the pocket” of Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry, he said, adding that they “don’t want to say a bad word about Planned Parenthood.”

“Social media has become the engine for those who feel so frustrated that things we have known for years that the abortion industry is doing, and yet we can’t seem to get the word out, now these people are taking this and running with it. And I think you’re seeing years and even decades of frustration being channeled in productive ways to say, ‘We’ve got to shout this from the rooftops.’ And social media is the perfect rooftop,” he said. 

When asked what the undercover videos released so far reveal about the abortion industry and the people who work in it, Pavone responded: 

When an abortionist dehumanizes the baby that he or she is about to kill, the abortionist also dehumanizes himself. And this is what we are seeing in these people. We see it in Deborah Nucatola sipping the wine and eating the salad and talking about the body parts. We see it in the newest video [about] Dr. Mary Gatter. We saw it in [jailed abortionist] Gosnell.

What’s wrong with [these people]? There are two things wrong. Number one, these people are dehumanized. They are deeply damaged by the abortions they perform. Because when you perform your first abortion, a voice of protest rises up within you saying, ‘No. Stop. You can’t do this.’ But then if you ignore that voice, and go ahead and do that abortion, then the next time you have to explain to yourself, and to everybody else, why you ignored that voice. And so, the voice of protest gets buried under layer, and layer, and layer of excuses and rationalizations. And in doing that, you are becoming disconnected from your own conscience.

How can these people talk about this with apparent peace on their face? It’s because they are disconnected from themselves, from their own conscience.

Pavone said that new undercover videos to be released in the coming days will continue to shed light on the gruesome practices happening at Planned Parenthood abortion centers across the nation. 

“We want to defund Planned Parenthood and get them to stop what they are doing. This is a very concrete way of doing that. We want to end Planned Parenthood because they are the largest abortion business in the world, and we want that to stop,” he said. 

Already a Congressional investigation is underway, but so far, Planned Parenthood is refusing to cooperate with the demands of the Committee investigating. 

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The Planned Parenthood scandal shows the power of exposing abortion’s grotesqueness

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By Jonathon van Maren

July 23, 2015 (UnmaskingChoice) -- If there’s one thing that confuses me about how many pro-lifers decide on strategies to change hearts and minds on abortion, it’s the fact that they seem to believe that we have to approach the most controversial issue there is without controversy—that somehow, we have to take an issue that people have incredibly strong feelings about and ensure that none of those feelings surface during a discussion.

As our postcard campaign nears our record-breaking mark of one million postcards delivered to one million homes, reactions have been widely varied—we have phone calls from people “horrified” by the postcard, who don’t seem to realize that the action depicted is much more horrifying. We have people who demand to know what they are supposed to say if their children see the picture of “the dead baby”—who don’t seem to realize that with their own words, they have admitted that we live in a country where dead babies are tossed in garbage cans behind government-funded clinics. We also have people who call us to thank us for the information, and express anger that such barbarism could be happening in Canada. We have people who phone to tell us that the postcard has changed their vote, and the votes of their neighbors. And we have people like the old man who wanted to shake my hand because he was encouraged to see that “some people cared about things.”

Huge numbers of Canadians have no idea that abortion decapitates, dismembers, and disembowels a pre-born human being. Huge numbers of Canadians are being exposed to that tragic and horrifying fact.

By the polling numbers, we see many people influenced against abortion—even if they don’t like us, the image stays with them, and they like abortion even less. Even if only ten percent of people were influenced against abortion because of postcards depicting abortion imagery, I would point out that that is still a far bigger number than any other pro-life strategy even claims to impact. For the first time, statistically significant portions of the population are being exposed to the reality of abortion—and they are reacting to that reality.

Pro-lifers are often tempted to run scared because they believe what the pro-abortion movement says about our best evidence—that it will “turn people” off. It will, of course. In the words of one abortion activist: “Your pictures turn people off of abortion.” If people get angry with us, but are still influenced against abortion, we have accomplished exactly what we set out to do. That being said, people only focus on the angry commenters that they see—a handful of social media posts, and the same tired news story from each and every single media outlet. I’m not sure if most journalists are unimaginative or just lazy, but most seem unwilling or incapable of even visiting a few websites and trying to find out what the rationale behind the strategy is. Most of them, I suspect, have pre-written stories and just call around to get the quotes they want. We know, for example, that reporters have specifically ignored people who have received the postcard and offered to comment positively—that is not, they openly say, the story they are looking for.

The abortion movement, on the other hand, can’t decide whether the imagery we use is extremely effective, or very ineffective. Canadian abortion blogger “Fern Hill” is usually babbling the talking points about how what we’re doing is so counter-productive, and that we’re obsessed with “gore porn,” and then calling us a bunch of names. (If pro-abortion groups really did believe that what we were doing strengthened support for abortion so much, I suspect that they’d be a lot less angry about what we’re doing—after all, we’re just doing their job!) But a couple of days ago, after responding to pictures of the dozens of lovely young women on our staff by snapping that they were all one unplanned pregnancy away from being pro-choice (such a depressing world these people live in), she tweeted an article at me that I found interesting.

Click "like" if you are PRO-LIFE!

It was a piece on David Daleidan of the Center for Medical Progress, the man behind the recent exposes of Planned Parenthood. He’s captured video of Planned Parenthood employees casually discussing not only the abortion procedure, but also how to best pillage the corpses of these dead children in order to sell their body parts for profit. The videos have horrified people across North America, and reaction has been swift. Amanda Marcotte, a pro-abortion blogger who often writes for Slate, has responded to the new scandal in an article called “Grossing people out can have short-term impact, but does it matter in the long-term?” She quotes Michelle Goldberg over at The Nation:

Further, it’s a way for the anti-abortion movement to focus the abortion debate on the graphic details of rare, late-term procedures, about which there is less public consensus than there is about early abortion. It serves the same purpose as the ban on so-called “partial-birth abortion,” and as blown-up pictures of bloody fetuses. It induces disgust, a very politically potent emotion, since most people associate things that are gross with things that are immoral. In his book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, Jonathan Haidt describes how researchers asked students at Cornell University to fill out surveys about their political attitudes while standing either near or far from hand sanitizer. Those standing closer to it became temporarily more conservative. If something that minor can affect people’s politics, then a video like this one is sure to have a visceral impact.

Amanda Marcotte goes on to say that while abortion imagery and exposes are very potent, that the impact of them is not long-lasting. Why? Because, she writes with hilarious immaturity, most things in life are gross—sex, going to the bathroom, surgery—and we all get over those things, don’t we? So surely abortion pictures will also be forgotten.

She’s forgetting something—abortion pictures aren’t powerful because they’re “gross.” Abortion pictures are powerful because they show the results of abortion—a dead, butchered human being. The power in the imagery is that people recognize that, and something in them responds to this injustice. It’s why even the people angry with our postcards have responded to the media by talking about the postcards depicting the “dead babies” or the “slain babies” or the “torn-up babies.” No-one thinks that what they’re looking at is a removed appendix. No one thinks that what they’re looking at is bodily waste. Everyone knows, almost immediately, that what they’re looking at is a dead human.

That is why the impact of abortion pictures doesn’t just disappear. One more piece of evidence? Almost everyone I know in the pro-life movement was convicted to join the pro-life fight because they saw a picture or a video of abortion, including myself. As Marcotte herself pointed out, that was what convicted David Daleidan as well. We now have over forty young people on our staff, all convicted by seeing what abortion does to babies and what they can do about it.

The movement is just getting started.

Reprinted with permission from the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform.

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