Medicinal Murder: Wesley J. Smith Charts the Steady Expansion of Euthanasia in Europe

By Smith, Wesley J. | First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, May 2013 | Go to article overview
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Medicinal Murder: Wesley J. Smith Charts the Steady Expansion of Euthanasia in Europe


Smith, Wesley J., First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life


The forty-five-year-old twin brothers had not contracted a terminal illness. Nor were Marc and Eddy Verbessem in physical pain. Both had been born deaf and were progressively losing their eyesight. As the Telegraph reported, "The pair told doctors that they were unable to bear the thought of not being able to see each other again," and so wanted to die.

When their own doctor wouldn't kill them, they found their executioner in Dr. David Dufour, who told a television newscast: "They had a cup of coffee in the hall, it went well and [they had] a rich conversation. Then the separation from their parents and brother was very serene and beautiful. At the last there was a little wave of their hands and then they were gone."

In a morally sane society, Dufour would lose his license to practice medicine and be tried for homicide. But having legalized euthanasia, Belgium no longer fits that description. The twins were not the first joint euthanasia killings reported in the country, In 2011, Belgian media extolled the joint deaths of an elderly couple, who were lethally injected with the apparent knowledge and support of their local community. They even made their final arrangements at the local mortuary before submitting to their terminations.

The couple's demise was celebrated by a Belgian bioethicist, who said, "It is an important signal to break a taboo." He added in terms as calm and chilling as those of the doctor who killed the twins, "This can be viewed as a normal way of dying and viewed as such by the community at large. ... Non-terminal partners, as we call them, also have the option of dying together, It is legally possible. There are no legal difficulties, It is only less well known. People think that euthanasia can only be applied to terminal cancer patients. But the group is a lot bigger. And this is a beautiful example that allows us to provide a dignified death to this couple, thanks to euthanasia." Most societies see joint suicides by elderly couples as tragic. For some in Belgium, they are beautiful.

In a separate case early this year, a Belgian psychiatrist euthanized Ann G., a forty-four-year-old woman with severe anorexia who had only a few months earlier publicly accused her previous psychiatrist of persuading her into sexual relations. Bioedge, an Australian blog that serves as an international clearinghouse for stories involving bioethics, reported that as early as 2007 Ann G. had told a journalist of her wish to commit suicide. Several months before her death, she appeared on a TV program and alleged that her former psychiatrist had sexually abused her and other patients. (The psychiatrist later admitted his guilt.) "Going public," Bioedge reported, "gave Ann a brief respite from 'the cancer in her head.' However, she was bitterly disappointed that the man who had victimised her was not severely disciplined. Then, overseen by a new psychiatrist, she exercised her option."

The news gets much worse in Belgium. Currently, the government is agitating to allow minors to consent to euthanasia if, as the ruling Socialist party leader Thierry Giet advocates, the child is "capable of discernment or affected by an incurable illness or suffering that we cannot alleviate." Alzheimer's patients will also soon be allowed to consent to euthanasia.

And that isn't the worst of it. In my first published article against euthanasia--"The Whispers of Strangers," published in Newsweek in June 1993--I worried that if assisted suicide were ever normalized, one day "organ harvesting" could be added to euthanasia "as a plum to society." In Belgium it now has.

The joining of voluntary euthanasia and organ harvesting came to light in a 2008 letter published in the medical journal Transplant International, reporting that a totally paralyzed woman first asked for euthanasia--permission granted--and then asked to donate her organs after her heart stopped. These procedures were deemed ethical simply because they had been performed.

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