Paul Russell

The conspicuous silence from euthanasia activists about Belgium’s horrific child euthanasia law

Paul Russell
By Paul Russell

Feb. 19, 2014 (PaulRussell) - The Belgian Parliament passed a change to their euthanasia laws on the 14th of February making euthanasia available to minors – children. One commentator incorrectly – but nonetheless poignantly called it a ‘Valentine’s Day Massacre’. Most, however, questioned the ability of minors to make such grave decisions and/or the problems with euthanasia in general, of which child euthanasia is a savage symptom.

Listed against the proposal were a group of some 200 Belgian paediatricians, a group from within the Assembly of the Council of Europe and the International Children’s Palliative Care Network (ICPCN) who issued a declaration from their international conference in Mumbai in the days preceding the vote. The ICPCN were clear: euthanasia is not part of palliative care and is not an alternative to palliative care.

While our thoughts go out to our Belgian colleagues and friends who fought valiantly against this latest bill, other Belgians, like Bart Sturtewagen, the Chief Editor of De Standaard newspaper – one of Belgium’s largest daily newspapers - seemed more than a little angry at the international attention.

“I’m annoyed at hearing ‘you’ll kill children’ in the foreign media. We don’t use that kind of language anymore. It’s a very different debate on a different level,” he said. Sturtewagen was responding to comments such as this one from U.S. publishing executive Steve Forbes who wrote in an opinion piece last month: "We are on the malignantly slippery slope to becoming a society like that envisioned by Nazi Germany, one in which 'undesirables' are disposed of like used tissue."

And it was the subtle and not-so subtle references elsewhere to the Nazi regime and the pre-war death program for those considered by the regime to be ‘unworthy of life’ that must have rancoured. The group statement from members of the Assembly of the Council for Europe made such an allusion when they said that child euthanasia, “promotes the unacceptable belief that a life can be unworthy of life which challenges the very basis of civilised society.” (Emphasis added)

Sturtewagen also told the Reuters network that after 12 years of legal euthanasia in the country, Belgians had grown used to it as an option for the final stages of their lives.

Australian academics, White and Wilmott, noted pro-euthanasia & assisted suicide authors, tried to dismiss the Belgian news in an article on The Conversation website: “Belgium is literally on the other side of the world in terms of this issue, due in part to a different culture and history in this field.”

All cultures vary by degrees, but one would have thought that the Nazi experience of last century would have informed Belgian culture a great deal – even 60 plus years on. But what is more to the point, and where the difference really lies, is the 12 years’ experience in killing people, as Sturtewagen observed.

Other pro-euthanasia commentators have been less defensive – but most have been utterly silent. Sean Davidson of the pro-euthanasia group Dignity South Africa made the only comments I can find in the Anglophone world from pro-euthanasia groups actually condemning the move. (Davidson was tried and found guilty in 2011 of assisting his mother to die in New Zealand.) He told the Volksblad newspaper: (Google translation from Afrikaans)

"I can understand why the Belgian legislature's responsiveness to this decision was motivated, but it is hard to believe that a child is able to make an informed decision about his or her life, while there are adults with those difficulty understanding. It often happens that an adult decision to his or her life to end when they are terminally ill, but their lives and clinging to the end unable to deal with the decision to push through it.

"How can it be expected that a young child such a decision?"

But he also told Volksblad that “Adults do not even always understand the concept of euthanasia.” This is something of an admission that even euthanasia for adults includes indelible risks. No, it really can’t be made safe, no matter what the so-called safeguards.

And that, in a nutshell, is the dilemma faced by pro-euthanasia groups across the globe at the moment about what to do about Belgium. A recent search of pro-euthanasia websites in the UK, Australia, the USA and Canada has uncovered no commentary whatsoever on child euthanasia. Philip Nitschke made a few remarks both before and after the vote, while one other pro-euthanasia advocate pretty much said that it was up to Belgium (which is no comment at all really). An Australian-based email alert did comment, however, that, “Predictably the opponents of VE (sic) were outraged at this development in Belgium.”

I questioned in an earlier article whether or not this silence can be taken as consent. I'm not totally convinced either way. However, I think we can legitimately question this general silence because, just as some pro-euthanasia groups actively distance themselves from the work of Exit International, it would have been entirely appropriate, laudable and true to their objectives had the pro-euthanasia lobby stood side-by-side with us against Belgium killing children.

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Their problem: Do they condemn the Belgian move because their focus is somewhere at the end of life only (and certainly for adults) or do they let their silence tell another story? The connection between this latest move in Belgium and the notion of the ‘slippery slope’ - the seemingly preferred term of the media - is inescapable. White and Wilmott would seem to agree; if not, then their strained attempt at rebutting the phenomenon seems worthless.

No doubt each group will continue to pursue their own stated aims, regardless, in the hope that this latest in a long line of critical condemnations of the perils of changing that law will eventually die down. Even so, that changes nothing.

Phillip Nitschke recently told 4ZZZ radio in Brisbane that he expects that Australia will eventually legislate for euthanasia. Such a law, he said, would be "very, very conservative," adding, "certainly in the first steps, stages…" It is this idea of the ‘first step’ that focuses pro-euthanasia groups towards a limited initial goal because, as Nitschke alludes to in his comment, for legislation to pass in the first instance it would need to be a small step only.

It is also this ‘first step,’ and admissions by a number of euthanasia supporters over the years that this is what they are seeking, that also points to the reality that extension of the law, by amendment and/or by re-interpretation or ignoring the statute, is an inevitability once the door has been prized open. In one Australian debate the MP proposing the bill told the pro-euthanasia local group that, while his bill wouldn’t please everybody, it was nonetheless a ‘good start’. Once killing is allowed for some, any barriers to extension – even to children, will eventually fall away to nothing behind the false rhetoric of compassion.

But there are those outside of Belgium and The Netherlands who understand the reality that what is created as a ‘right’ for some will ultimately be demanded as a ‘right’ by others. Lesley Martin, a veteran pro-euthanasia advocate from New Zealand, recently made that point on 3 News NZ.

“Ms Martin has campaigned for years for assisted dying legislation to make their actions legal and says children deserve the same humanitarian rights as adults,” said the article, entitled: Calls for NZ to follow Belgium's euthanasia lead.

Martin argued that doctors killing children is already happening and therefore needs to be regulated, something that palliative care experts deny. (Like Davidson, Martin was convicted in relation to the death of her mother in 1999.) While Martin’s comments, echoing the ‘rights’ dilemma about incremental extension of euthanasia are accurate and honest, they amount to an ‘own goal’ for the pro-euthanasia push in New Zealand that is expected to resume after the general election later this year.

Hopefully the recent comments by Yves Robert, secretary of Quebec’s College of Physicians, will also echo a word of warning to the Quebec Parliament as they approach debate on Bill 52, which will allow euthanasia in the province. LifeSiteNews reports that Robert told The National Post:

“As Quebecers become accustomed to doctors administering lethal injections to dying patients, the questions will not be about who is receiving euthanasia but who is being denied it”.

“We will have to think about that, not only for [incapable] adults but obviously for youngsters who face terminal diseases,” he said.

Responding, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition International chair, Alex Schadenberg, claims that the intention was always thus:

“(The Quebec Government’s) intention from the beginning was to include children and people with dementia. … This is not new. The Quebec Human Rights Commission thought that not allowing children to have euthanasia was a form of discrimination.”

He compared the situation in Quebec to Belgium, “It took them ten years to add children, but in fact … they needed to add that because they were already doing it to children. The law was being ignored. It was already being abused, and doctors wanted cover for it.”

Where to the pro-euthanasia movement, now? As always they will continue to press their cause. Some, possibly, will modify their rhetoric even further to try to create a distance between their objectives and the Belgian and Dutch experience. Others will likely try to ignore it.

The trouble is, like it or no, there are inescapable realities here that ultimately must be accounted for.

Reprinted with permission from Paul Russell's blog

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Vatican’s doctrine chief: ‘Absolutely anti-Catholic’ to let bishops conferences decide doctrine or discipline

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By John-Henry Westen

VATICAN, March 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has rejected outright the idea floated by Germany’s Cardinal Reinhard Marx that various bishops’ conferences around the world would decide for themselves on points of discipline or doctrine. 

“This is an absolutely anti-Catholic idea that does not respect the catholicity of the Church,” Cardinal Müller told France’s Famille Chrétienne in an interview published today

The question was raised because Cardinal Marx, the head of the German Catholic bishops’ conference and a member of Pope Francis’ advisory Council of Nine, told reporters that the German bishops would chart their own course on the question of allowing Communion for those in “irregular” sexual unions.

“We are not a subsidiary of Rome,” he said in February. “The Synod cannot prescribe in detail what we should do in Germany.”

Vatican Cardinal Müller remarked that while episcopal conferences may have authority over certain issues they are not a parallel magisterium apart from the pope or outside communion with the bishops united to him.

Asked specifically about Cardinal Marx saying that the Church in Germany is “not a subsidiary of Rome,” the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said pointedly “the president of an Episcopal Conference is nothing more than a technical moderator, and as such has no special teaching authority.”  He added moreover, that the dioceses in a particular country “are not subsidiaries of the secretariat of an Episcopal conference or diocese whose Bishop presides over the Episcopal Conference.”

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The CDF head warned that “this attitude makes the risk of waking some polarization between the local churches and the universal Church.” He did not however believe that there was the will for Episcopal conferences to separate from Rome.

The important interview also saw Cardinal Müller contest the notion that the pastoral practice or discipline could change while retaining the same doctrine. “We can not affirm the doctrine and initiate a practice that is contrary to the doctrine,” he said.

He added that not even the papal Magisterium is free to change doctrine. “Every word of God is entrusted to the Church, but it is not superior to the Word,” he said. “The Magisterium is not superior to the word of God. The reverse is true.”

Cardinal Müller rejected the notion that we would have to modify Christ’s unflinching words totally forbidding divorce and remarriage.  We cannot “say that our ministry should be more cautious than Jesus Christ Himself!”  Nor could we, he added, say that Christ’s teaching is out of date or that “we need to correct or refine Jesus Christ because He lived in an idealistic world.” 

Rather, the cardinal said, bishops must be ready for martyrdom.  Quoting Jesus he said, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and if we speak all kinds of evil against you because of me.”

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‘Groundbreaking’: Kansas may become first state to ban dismemberment abortions

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By Ben Johnson

TOPEKA, KS, March 26, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Kansas will become the first state in the country to ban a procedure in which unborn children are dismembered in the womb, if Gov. Sam Brownback signs a bill that recently passed the state legislature.

The state House passed a ban on dilation and evacuation (D&E) abortions, called dismemberment abortions in common parlance, by 98-26 on Wednesday.

The Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act, which had already passed the state Senate in February 31-9, now heads to Gov. Brownback's desk.

Brownback, a staunch defender of life, is expected to sign the act into law.

"Because of the Kansas legislature's strong pro-life convictions, unborn children in the state will be protected from brutal dismemberment abortions," said Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, which has made banning dismemberment abortions a national legislative focus.

The procedure, in which an abortionist separates the unborn child's limbs from his body one at a time, accounts for 600 abortions statewide every year.

Nationally, it is “the most prevalent method of second-trimester pregnancy termination in the USA, accounting for 96 percent of all second trimester abortions,” according to the National Abortion Federation Abortion Training Textbook.

“It’s just unconscionable that something happens to children that we wouldn’t tolerate being done to pets,” Katie Ostrowski, the legislative director of Kansans for Life, told The Wichita Eagle.

Leading pro-life advocacy groups have made shifting the debate to dismemberment a national priority, with similar legislation being considered in Missouri and Oklahoma. Mary Spaulding Balch, J.D., who is NRLC's director of state legislation, called the bill's passage in Topeka “groundbreaking.”

"When the national debate focuses only on the mother, it is forgetting someone," she said.

The abortion lobby has made clear that it is uncomfortable engaging in a public relations tussle on this ground.

Elizabeth Nash, the senior state issues associate of the Guttmacher Institute, said that dismemberment is “not medical language, so it’s a little bit difficult to figure out what the language would do.”

On the state Senate floor, Democrats tried to alter the bill's language on the floor by replacing the term “unborn child” with fetus. “I know some of you don’t believe in science. But it’s not an unborn child, it’s called a fetus,” said state Senator David Haley, D-Kansas City.

If the bill becomes law, the abortion industry has vowed to fight on.

Julie Burkhart, a former associate of late-term abortionist George Tiller, said the motion's only intention is “to intimidate, threaten and criminalize doctors.”

“Policymakers should be ashamed,” she said, adding, “if passed, we will challenge it in court.”

Gov. Brownback has previously signed conscience rights protections and sweeping pro-life protections into law.

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How NOT to move beyond the abortion wars

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By Anne Hendershott

March 26, 2015 (CrisisMagazine.com) -- A few years ago, when an undergraduate student research assistant of mine—a recent convert to Catholicism—told me that he was planning to meet with a well-known dissenting Catholic theology professor who was then ensconced in an endowed chair at a major metropolitan Catholic university, I told him: “Be careful, you might end up liking him too much.” I jokingly told my student not to make eye contact with the theologian because he might begin to find himself agreeing with him that Catholic teachings “really allow” for women’s ordination and full reproductive rights—including access to abortion.

I was reminded of that conversation this week when I began reading a new book by yet another engaging Catholic theology professor at a major metropolitan university who also claims (pg 6) that the argument he puts forward in his book, Beyond the Abortion Wars, is “consistent with defined Catholic doctrine.” Written by Charles Camosy, associate professor of theology at Fordham University, the new book purports to be in line with Catholic teachings and promises “a way forward for a new generation.” But, Camosy delivers yet another argument for a woman’s right to choose abortion when confronted with an unborn child that he has described—in the past—as an “innocent aggressor.”

Indeed, Camosy has spent much of his career trying to convince us that he knows Catholic teachings better than the bishops. Criticizing Bishop Olmsted for his intervention and excommunication of a hospital administrator for her role in the direct abortion at a Phoenix Catholic hospital, Camosy suggested in 2013 that “the infamous Phoenix abortion case set us back in this regard.” Implying that Bishop Olmsted was not smart enough to understand the moral theology involved in the case, Camosy claimed that “The moral theology in the case was complex—which makes the decision to declare publicly that Sr. McBride had excommunicated herself even more inexplicable. The Church can do better.” For Camosy, “Catholics must be ready to help shape our new discussion on abortion. And we must do so in a way that draws people into the conversation—not only with respectful listening, but speaking in a way that is both coherent and sensitive.”

This new book is likely Camosy’s attempt to “draw people into the conversation.” But, there is little in his book that is either coherent or sensitive. Claiming to want to move “beyond” the abortion wars, Camosy creates an argument that seems designed to offend the pro-life side, while giving great respect to those who want to make sure abortion remains legal.

Especially offensive for pro-life readers will be Camosy’s description of the abortifacient, RU-486 as a form of “indirect abortion.” The reality is that RU-486, commonly known as the “abortion pill,” effectively ends an early pregnancy (up to 8 weeks) by turning off the pregnancy hormone (progesterone). Progesterone is necessary to maintain the pregnancy and when it is made inoperative, the fetus is aborted. For Camosy, who claims that his book is “consistent with settled Catholic doctrine,” this is not a “direct” abortion. To illustrate this, Camosy enlists philosopher Judith Jarvis Thompson’s 1971 “Defense of Abortion”—the hypothetical story of the young woman who is kidnapped and wakes up in a hospital bed to find that her healthy circulatory system has been hooked up to a famous unconscious violinist who has a fatal kidney ailment. The woman’s body is being used to keep the violinist alive until a “cure” for the violinist can be found. Camosy makes the case—as hundreds of thousands of pro-choice proponents have made in the past four decades—that one cannot be guilty of directly killing the violinist if one simply disconnects oneself from him. Likewise, for Camosy, simply taking the drug RU 486 is not “directly” killing the fetus. He writes:

The drugs present in RU 486 do not by their very nature appear to attack the fetus. Instead, the drug cuts off the pregnancy hormone and the fetus is detached from the woman’s body…. Using RU 486 is like removing yourself from [Judith Jarvis Thompson’s] violinist once you are attached. You don’t aim at his death, but instead remove yourself because you don’t think you have the duty to support his life with your body…. Some abortions are indirect and better understood as refusals to aid (pp 82-83).

Perhaps there are some readers who will find Camosy’s argument convincing, but I am not sure that many faithful Catholic readers will agree that it is consistent with settled Catholic doctrine.

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As one who is hardly a bystander in the abortion wars, I wanted to like this book. As an incrementalist who celebrates every small step in creating policy to protect the unborn, I had high hopes that this book would at last begin to bridge the divide. A decade ago, in my own book, The Politics of Abortion, I joined the argument begun by writers like Marvin Olasky in his Abortion Rites: A Social History of Abortion in America, that it is more effective to attempt to change the hearts and minds of people than to create divisive public policy at the federal level. I share Charles Camosy’s desire to end the abortion wars—but this war cannot end until the real war on the unborn ends. This does not mean that the two sides cannot work together—battling it out at the state level—where there is the opportunity for the greatest success. But, complex philosophical arguments on whether RU 486 is a direct or indirect form of abortion are not helpful to these conversations.

Camosy must know that we can never really “end” the abortion wars as long as unborn children are still viewed as “aggressors” or “invaders” and can still be legally aborted. Faithful Catholics know that there is no middle ground on this—the pro-life side has to prevail in any war on the unborn. It can be done incrementally but ground has to be gained—not ceded—for the pro-life side. Besides, Camosy seems a bit late to the battlefield to begin with. In many ways, he seems to have missed the fact that the pro-life side is already winning many of the battles through waiting periods, ultrasound and parental notification requirements, and restrictions on late term abortion at the state level. More than 300 policies to protect the unborn have been passed at the state level just in the past few years. The number of abortions each year has fallen to pre-Roe era levels—the lowest in more than four decade.   Much of these gains are due to the selfless efforts of the pro-life community and their religious leaders. Yet, just as victory appears possible in many more states, Camosy seems to want to surrender by resurrecting the tired rhetoric—and the unconscious violinists—of forty years ago.

While it is disappointing, it is not unexpected considering Camosy’s last book lauded the contributions of Princeton’s most notorious professor, Peter Singer—the proponent of abortion, euthanasia and infanticide. Claiming that Singer is “motivated by an admirable desire to respond to the suffering of human and non-human animals,” Camosy’s 2012 book, Peter Singer and Christian Ethics: Beyond Polarization, argues that, “Though Singer is pro-choice for infanticide, on all the numerous and complicated issues related to abortion but one, Singer sounds an awful lot like Pope John Paul II.”  In a post at New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, a progressive organization led by Rev. Richard Cizik (a former lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals who was removed from his position because of his public support for same sex unions, and his softening stance on abortion) Camosy wrote that he found Singer to be “friendly and compassionate.”  Camosy currently serves on the Advisory Board of Cizik’s New Evangelical Partnership—where he has posted Peter Singer-like articles including: “Why Christians Should Support Rationing Health Care.”

One cannot know the motivations of another—we can never know what is in another’s heart so it is difficult to know why Charles Camosy wrote this book. It must be difficult to be a pro-life professor at Fordham University—a school known for dissenting theologians like Elizabeth Johnson. But, if one truly wants to advance a culture of life in which all children are welcomed into the world, it would seem that inviting Peter Singer to be an honored speaker to students at Fordham in 2012 is not the way to do it, nor would claiming that RU-486 “may not aim at death by intention.” Perhaps it is unwise to continue to critically review Camosy’s work from a Catholic perspective because it gives such statements credibility—and notoriety. But, as long as Camosy continues to claim that his writings and policy suggestions—including his newly proposed “Mother and Prenatal Child Protection Act”—are “consistent with defined Catholic doctrine,” faithful Catholics will have to continue to denounce them.

Reprinted with permission from Crisis Magazine. 

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