A Society Open to Life

The Push for Euthanasia

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The recent approval of euthanasia for children in Belgium confirmed there is indeed a slippery slope. Euthanasia lobbyists argue that euthanasia is only for very limited cases, but experience shows that once it is approved it will inevitably expand to more and more cases.

Just last year a Belgian was euthanized after a sex change operation went awry. Nancy Verhelst underwent surgery to become a man, but was put to death on the grounds of «unbearable psychological suffering,» the London Telegraph reported, Oct. 1.

According to the article, Belgium recorded a record number of 1,432 cases of euthanasia in 2012, up 25% from the previous year. It also mentioned that in Holland the number of people killed by euthanasia doubled in the 10 years since it was legalized and that in 2012 the number rose by 13% to 4,188.

Then, there was the case of an Italian woman, Oriella Caszzenello, 85, who ended her life at a Swiss euthanasia clinic because she was upset about losing her looks, according to a report in the Daily Mail newspaper, Feb. 20.

During the debate over the legalization of euthanasia for minors in Belgium, Alex Taylor wrote a moving article for the London Times on Feb. 13. Born prematurely, and confined to a wheelchair, he explained that right after his birth, doctors had urged his parents not to have him resuscitated.

“I have wondered what might have crossed my parents’ minds had euthanasia been an option,” he said.

“But I am still here, despite what the doctors said,” he added. “If they can be wrong, what chance do parents have judging the sanctity of their child’s life?”

Prior to the vote 160 Belgian pediatricians signed an open letter opposing the proposal, saying that there was no urgent need for it and that modern medicine is capable of alleviating pain, the BBC reported, Feb. 13.


Euthanasia is on the agenda in Canada, specifically in Québec. The proposal – Bill 52 – looked set to go ahead, but seems to have stalled for the moment. Parliament is in recess until March 11 and according to press reports it is possible that an election might soon be called, in which case the bill will not be voted on.

According to information provided by the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, Bill 52 would give Québec doctors the right to lethally inject their patients when they are suffering, physically or psychologically.

The coalition also noted that the proposed law does not limit euthanasia to terminally ill people. The bill states that a person must be “at the end of life” but the bill does not define end of life. Bill 52 also allows euthanasia for psychological suffering, which is not defined.

The coalition affirmed that the bill puts people with disabilities in danger. Bill 52 states that a person must be in “an advanced state of irreversible decline in capability.” Many people with disabilities fit these criteria, according to the coalition.  

Political support for euthanasia is growing in Canada. A Feb. 25 report in the Canadian Catholic newspaper the Catholic Register, noted that two days previously the Liberal Party’s biennial convention voted in favour of the decriminalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Doctors, however, still have strong objections to euthanasia. On Feb. 21 the British Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) revealed the results of a poll of more than 1,700 of its members.

According to the poll 77% expressed the opinion that the college should remain opposed to a change in the law to permit assisted dying. Among the reasons given was that any change to the law would be detrimental to the patient-doctor relationship and that it would put the vulnerable at risk.

Deprivation of love

On Feb. 19 Pope Francis sent a message to those present for the General Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life, which had as its theme “Aging and Disability.”

“Indeed, in our society one encounters the tyrannical dominion forced upon us by a logic of economics that discounts, excludes and at times evens kills our elderly––and today so many fall victim to this. We have created a ‘throw away’ culture which is now spreading,” Pope Francis said.

“The social-demographic predicament of the aged is a stark reminder of this exclusion of the elderly person, and especially when he or she is ill, disabled or for any other reason rendered vulnerable,” he commented.

“The gravest deprivation experienced by the aged is not the weakening of one’s physical body, nor the disability that may result from this. Rather, it is the abandonment, exclusion and deprivation of love,” Pope Francis observed.

“When society affirms that the call to the realization of one’s humanity does not exclude suffering, and instead teaches how to see sick and suffering persons as gifts for the entire community, whose presence calls everyone to solidarity and responsibility, only then may this society call itself open to life,” he said.

In a time when many countries have rapidly aging populations this call to be open to life is a very real challenge.

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Fr. John Flynn

Australia Bachelor of Arts from the University of New South Wales. Licence in Philosophy from the Pontifical Gregorian University. Bachelor of Arts in Theology from the Queen of the Apostles.

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