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A slow poison

Euthanasia in Holland and Belgium shows that “free choice” ends up devouring itself

Belgian politicians debate the bill on child euthanasia at the Belgian federal parliament in Brussels on Feb. 12, 2014. Associated Press/Photo by Geert Vanden Wijngaert

A slow poison
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Look to Holland. That’s what conservatives tracing the progress of international euthanasia law over the years have learned to do. For that matter, look to either Holland or Belgium. These two countries are to Europe as Oregon or California are to the United States: first and worst. As they have raced each other to the bottom, they offer a glimpse of what the future might look like, unless someone cares enough to change it.

Holland first made euthanasia legal for adults in 2002, and Belgium followed only months later. In 2014, Belgium became the first country to legalize “voluntary” euthanasia for terminally ill children of any age. This week, Holland has finally followed suit, after years of limiting the “service” to minor teens and terminally ill newborns (who could be killed with parental consent if a doctor judged that the baby’s suffering was “unbearable” and incurable). Now, the gap between ages 1 and 12 has been filled. No child left behind, as it were. 

The same boilerplate language of “unbearable and endless suffering” is being applied here of course, and the recommendation of two doctors is required. A Christian Dutch-language magazine reports that it’s estimated only 5-10 children per year will qualify, but the pro-life advocacy organization NPV-Zorg voor het leven (translated, “Care for Life”) is skeptical that the number will remain that low. The law contains no “due diligence requirements,” following a common pattern of leaving this sort of thing up to individual doctors’ discretion as cases arise. Between the wiggle room in words like “terminal” and “suffering” and the additional arguments from future suffering that will no doubt be pressed, there’s no reason to assume that small estimate won’t steadily creep upward. The article writer further observes that the nature of the legislation ensures all of this will happen outside the auspices of international law. 

And, of course, once allowances have been made for terminally ill children, the question will inevitably be asked, “What about physically suffering children who aren’t terminally ill?” Playing devil’s advocate, one could argue that if anything, their situation is more dire, since there is no end in sight. Or what about depressed young people like Shanti De Corte, a Belgian PTSD sufferer who was murdered by her country in 2022? And so down the slippery slope we roll.

Once allowances have been made for terminally ill children, the question will inevitably be asked, “What about physically suffering children who aren’t terminally ill?”

The BBC’s report has an embedded documentary clip which, perhaps smartly, features Belgian seniors rather than Dutch teenagers. It’s still worth watching, as it chillingly displays the fundamental logic behind all euthanasia law. Our hero is a “compassionate” doctor, who, we are ominously reminded, could go to jail if he offered his services in the United Kingdom. We meet several of his elderly patients—fragile, desperate people full of relief that they won’t be forced to die slow, agonizing deaths in “a room that smells like piss,” to quote one woman. 

Of course, that woman couldn’t anticipate her death so eloquently if she were 3 years old. Yet the chain of logic that would lead the state to kill a 3-year-old is clear. It begins with the axiom that to die is better than to suffer, and it concludes that such a death should be enshrined as a basic human right. It is treated as a mercy that the healthy owe to the sick, the same way we owe it to our animals. If we wouldn’t withhold that tender mercy from a sick adult, why should we withhold it from a child? Indeed, the younger the sufferer, the more guilty we should be made to feel for our hesitation. True, the child may not understand what is happening, but then neither does the old family dog, and we lovingly kill him anyway. And so we see that what began as an argument for “free choice” ends, as ever, in choice devouring itself.

This is how the culture of death works its slow poison. This is how voices of death are elevated as kind and compassionate, while voices of life are drowned out as inhumane, fanatical. Religiously fanatical, as Death with Dignity shrieks hysterically in a recent screed against its Christian opponents in America. No doubt casting a longing eye across the pond, they paint the lovely, compassionate future that might be if it weren’t for the “religiously motivated” nut jobs who keep insistently getting in their way. In New Mexico and California, they remind us how Christian doctors and dentists united to challenge weak opt-out provisions for medical professionals who didn’t want to “assist” people in dying. “While the stated objective was to make sure opt-out provisions were strong enough,” Death with Dignity warns, “the real goal is to make sure all of us fall in line with the morals and values of the Church and the Christian Medical and Dental Associations.” 

Oh no! They’re on to us!

In all seriousness, we don’t anticipate that Death with Dignity will be falling in line with our values any time soon. Until then, we look to Belgium and Holland and vow that we won’t join them, as long as Christians have something to say about it.

Bethel McGrew

Bethel McGrew is a math Ph.D. and widely published freelance writer. Her work has appeared in First Things, National Review, The Spectator, and many other national and international outlets. Her Substack, Further Up, is one of the top paid newsletters in “Faith & Spirituality” on the platform. She has also contributed to two essay anthologies on Jordan Peterson. When not writing social criticism, she enjoys writing about literature, film, music, and history.


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