Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli
When the early Dutch settlers arrived in the American colonies, they brought with them a unique piece of architecture that immediately became popular. They introduced the typical Dutch farmhouse door. It was a door split horizontally with the bottom half remaining closed and the top half easily opened. The closed bottom half kept the children in the house and the animals out. The top half allowed fresh air in. This clever way of fashioning a door gave birth to the common English expression “going Dutch.” When two people dine together and split the bill, each taking care of their own expenses, they are said to be “going Dutch.”
Last year, Newsweek journalist Winston Ross headlined an article on euthanasia with the clever expression “dying Dutch.” How appropriate! It is from the Netherlands that many countries are now importing the practice of sanctioning euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide. Euthanasia, the intentional ending of someone’s life to relieve suffering, is legal today in Belgium, Ireland, Colombia and Luxembourg. Assisted suicide, that is, intentionally providing a person with the knowledge or means to commit suicide, is legal in Switzerland, Germany, Japan, Albania and Canada. Other countries such as France and England are not far behind.
In the United States, Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont all have gone “Dutch with dying.” These states have legalized euthanasia. Ten other states — Alabama, Idaho, Massachusetts, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming — have no enactments that make it a criminal act to assist or counsel the suicide of someone wishing to end their life. In January 2016, New Jersey legislators voted against a bill legalizing assisted suicide. A month later, a new bill was reintroduced to allow the terminally ill to end their lives.
The Dutch have been very liberal in removing any restriction on terminating human lives. Now, the vulnerable and the weak may have their lives ended. Newborn babies, teenagers with disabilities and individuals with depression or dementia may be euthanized. Even children ages 12 to 15 may be euthanized, if their parents agree. After 16, they can decide for themselves.
When people are ill or disabled, it is precisely those moments of caring for them that bring out the best in others to be selfless and compassionate. It becomes a time for family members and friends to deny themselves in order to be with and comfort those who suffer or are terminally ill. Suffering can strengthen the bonds of love and prepare both those suffering and their caregivers to be more closely united with the God of all love. No Christian can look at the cross of Jesus without acknowledging that suffering can be redemptive.
Those who try to justify euthanasia argue that suffering is meaningless and intolerable. Yet, today’s palliative care provides ways to ease pain without terminating the life of the individual. Legalizing the killing of any person to end their suffering introduces a dangerous view of life. It reduces life to a disposable commodity to be used and then discarded at will. But the human person is more than his or her suffering. The will of a society to care for the suffering will always be the mark of a civilized society.
A recent Gallup poll reported that seven in 10 Americans now hold that physicians should be able to legally end a patient’s life. While it is sad to see the increase in those supporting euthanasia and physician-assisted suicides, it is not surprising. As more and more people reject belief in God or are living lives as if there were no God, the respect for life as the fundamental gift of a loving God is diminished.
Where God is absent from people’s lives, they themselves forget that we are merely stewards of the gift of life. God is the God of life. He alone has absolute dominion over life. Such a basic truth becomes meaningless in a totally secularized and godless society. And, the results are disastrous.
Any society that legalizes euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide effectively removes the protections needed for its most vulnerable members. The sick, the disabled and elderly begin to see themselves as a physical, emotional and financial burden on others. And so does the state.
In 2008, Barbara Wagner sought treatment for lung cancer. Oregon denied her treatment because of cost. The state offered, however, as an alternative, to pay for her physician-assisted suicide. As the health care industry becomes more and more a profit-driven system with an emphasis on cutting costs, financial considerations soon replace ethical principles in dealing with the disabled, the elderly and the terminally ill.
Legalizing euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide negates the inherent value of every human person. It opens the door to abuse, coercion and denial of health care because of costs. It ultimately splits society into those who have power to make life and death decisions for others and those who are subject to the will of the more powerful. The momentum to intentionally and deliberately end the life of someone who is suffering or terminally ill, if not stopped, will eventually unravel the fabric of the civilized world. When it comes to death, do we really want to “go Dutch?”