Euthanasia and Children: the Economic Factor

Bishop Sgreccia on the Ominous Dutch Deal

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ROME, SEPT. 16, 2004 ( News that euthanasia will be applied to children in the Netherlands puts economic interests above the person, says the vice president of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

On Aug. 30, the media reported the agreement between the Dutch judicial authorities and the Groningen University Clinic, which authorizes a protocol of experimentation directed to extending the practice of euthanasia — already regulated by an April 2002 law — to children under age 12, to «liberate» them «from pain.»

The «aid to die» or «assisted suicide,» Bishop Elio Sgreccia said in an article published in L’Osservatore Romano on Sept. 3, was already provided for in the 2002 law for adults who request it, 16- and 17-year-olds who ask for it in writing, and 12- to 15-year-olds who are capable of giving their consent, coupled with that of their parents or guardians.

«Now, with this last medical-judicial agreement, the Netherlands is going beyond the limit prohibited to date even for clinical experimentation, according to the Helsinki Codes,» which allow for clinical experimentation on children under 12, the Vatican official said.

In the case of children, «one certainly cannot speak of valid consent,» he said, when explaining the motive of the Helsinki Codes. And experimentation «can always entail a certain risk, even if minimal, for the individual in question,» he noted.

Bishop Sgreccia added: «The ethical norms related to clinical experimentation, inspired in the principles proclaimed after the Nuremberg trials, have been more than surpassed by the latest Dutch events.»

He said he believes we are before the verification of the so-called slippery slope.

«Once the legitimacy is admitted of death inflicted out of mercy on the conscious adult who has requested it in an explicit, repeated and documented way, then there is a move to extend its application also to youths, to adolescents with the consent of their parents or guardians, and finally to children and newborns — obviously without their consent,» the bishop said.

Because of this, «it is also easy to foresee that sliding on the ‘slippery slope’ of euthanasia will continue in the coming years until it includes adult patients considered incapable of giving their consent, such as, for example, the mentally ill or individuals in a persistent coma or vegetative state,» he warned.

In fact, the argument of the slippery slope «functions in its perverse efficacy … because it assumes that there are no absolute values that must be respected,» which implies «obvious moral relativism,» the Vatican official said.

If to this is added «the economic interest, then the slope becomes fatal and uncontrollable,» he stressed.

According to Bishop Sgreccia, for the past three decades, attempts have been made to justify euthanasia by making reference to the «principle of autonomy.»

But with the last Dutch protocol, there is direct disregard of «the will of the individual who, because of his age, is obviously incapable of expressing his own choice so it is substituted with the will of others, relatives or guardians, and with the doctor’s interpretative judgment,» the bishop said.

We are faced with «a type of freedom of adults considered legitimate even when it is exercised over one who has no autonomy,» the bishop noted.

There has also been an effort to justify euthanasia by appealing «to liberation from ‘useless’ pain and suffering,» he said. But the «child or newborn who, as pediatricians say, suffers less than the adult, has not the ability to assess or define his suffering as unbearable.»

«The one who assesses, according to the Dutch norms, is the doctor, and those who consent or decide are the relatives. Isn’t it, perhaps, their suffering?» the bishop asked.

«Our age has made pain almost totally ‘curable’ … [with] palliative and analgesic treatments,» he added. «Are pain and suffering, then, cured with an anticipated violent death?»

Given the situation, Bishop Sgreccia warned about the possible emergence of a «social Darwinism that tries to facilitate the elimination of human beings oppressed by suffering and defects in order to ‘anesthetize’ the whole society.»

The prelate further cautioned of a «utilitarian mentality which is progressively penetrating Western society, with the ideology of maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain.»

Joined to the economic question of allocating resources, this utilitarianism gives priority to the «increase of wealth and productivity» as opposed to «the duties of the relief of suffering and the sustenance of the sick person,» he observed.

In so doing, we move away «not only from the ethics of freedom, but also from the ethics of solidarity,» the Vatican official said.

If allowed to continue, he said, «we would be under the dominion of a society of the strong and healthy within the logic of the primacy of the economy.»

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