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Analysis: The Spread of Euthanasia

California Becomes 5th US State to Legalize Measure

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A couple of weeks ago Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that allows doctors to give lethal doses of drugs to terminally ill people who expect to die within six months and who wish to put an end to their lives sooner.

The same day, Oct. 5, the bishops of California issued a statement, saying, “This law stands in direct contradiction to providing compassionate, quality care for those facing a terminal illness.”

They mentioned that Pope Francis has warned against a “throw away culture” and that physician-assisted suicide is the wrong way to advance the human dignity of those suffering from a terminal illness.

“In a health care system grappling with constantly escalating costs, the elderly and disabled are in great peril now that assisted suicide has become legal,” they warned.

For his part Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, issued a statement the following day in which he said that the decision to sign the bill “is a great tragedy for human life.”

“A government that legalizes assisted suicide sends the terrible message Pope Francis has so eloquently warned us against, that there is such a thing as disposable people,” he said.

California is far from the only place where assisted suicide is being debated. In Canada the issue has come up but for the moment it has been sidelined due to impending elections.

Rejection in England

In England there have also been various attempts to legalize assisted suicide, the latest being in September. In a free vote in the House of Commons parliamentarians rejected the proposal by 330 to 118, the BBC reported Sept. 11.

The last time such a proposal came up for a vote was in 1997. Then, 72% of members of parliament voted against this bill compared with 74% this time.

Conservative Party parliamentarian Caroline Spelman said that “the right to die can so easily become the duty to die” and she said the law already provided protection for the elderly and disabled.

“It’s a terrible idea to base law upon individual cases of extreme circumstances,” commented Tim Stanley writing for the Telegraph newspaper on Aug. 24.

A steady stream of news this year from the experience of assisted suicide in Belgium and Holland revealed the threat of a dangerous expansion of its use once legalized.

In a blogpost dated October 9 Alex Schadenberg, Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, noted that Professor Theo Boer, who was a member of a regional euthanasia review committee in Holland for nine years, has now changed his mind to now oppose legalizing euthanasia,

Since 2007, Boer observed in a recent article, the number of cases of assisted suicide has steadily risen, reaching 5,500 last year. Around 1 in 25 deaths in the Netherlands is now due to assisted suicide.

The preferred option

“Whereas assisted dying in the beginning was the odd exception, accepted by many — including myself — as a last resort, it is on the road to becoming a preferred, if not the only acceptable, mode of dying in the case of cancer,” Boer commented.

Meanwhile, in Belgium, the number of euthanasia cases has more than doubled in the last six years and now accounts for 4.6% of all deaths, compared with 1.7% in 2007, the Associated Press reported on March 17.

Last year Belgium extended the possibility of assisted suicide to those under 18 years of age.

“Physicians should talk more to their patients and prevent them from coming into situations in which the only option that remains open to the physician is helping them to die without request of the patient himself,” said Ghent University ethics professor Freddy Mortier.

Between October 2007 and December 2011, 100 people went to a clinic in Belgium’s Dutch-speaking region with depression, or schizophrenia, or, in several cases, Asperger’s syndrome, seeking euthanasia, wrote Charles Lane for the Washington Post on August 19.

Lane explained that the doctors were satisfied that 48 of the patients were in earnest, and that their conditions were “untreatable” and “unbearable,” and offered them a lethal injection; 35 went through with it.

“The increasing normalization of euthanasia is just one of many social trends that reveals a Europe that is becoming profoundly estranged from its Judeo-Christian heritage,” wrote Tom Wilson in a commentary posted in January on the First Things Website.

He also referred to the growth in “suicide tourism,” particularly in Switzerland, which sees people from other countries where assisted suicide is illegal coming to put an end to their lives.

In addition to the secularization of Europe the growing numbers of euthanasia goes hand in hand with a general anti-life attitude that has seen birth rates plummeting.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church deals with euthanasia and suicide in nos. 2276-2283. Among other things it says that those whose lives are diminished or weakened deserve special respect and should be helped, not be encouraged to die.


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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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