The news from the Netherlands, as this magazine reports, is not encouraging. Almost one in twenty deaths are now the result of euthanasia, and a considerable proportion of those put to death are not terminally ill, but suffering from old age alone. As one commentator put it, of these old people who supposedly elect to die: “These are old people who may have health problems, but none of them are life-threatening. They’re old, they can’t get around, their friends are dead and their children don’t visit anymore. This kind of trend cries out for a discussion. Do we think their lives are still worthwhile?”
That indeed is a good question. In Holland, is human life still of value? Given the upward trend in euthanasia statistics, is Holland a good place in which to grow old or to grow ill? And are these old people really choosing to die freely and deliberately, or are they under pressure, spoken or unspoken, to do so?
At this point, a Catholic will surely be tempted to point out the essential flaw in the original legislation that made euthanasia legal in Holland back in 2002. Firstly, hard cases make bad law; and secondly, any opening of the door to voluntary euthanasia represents the thin end of the wedge, for what is extraordinary has a habit of becoming usual, and what is voluntary has the tendency to become less so, given the tyranny of public opinion. Countries that have not legalised euthanasia (or assisted death, or whatever you want to call it) should find the Dutch experience a warning of what to expect if they do. In countries where the Church is still doing its best to oppose euthanasia, Catholics should take heart, realising the importance of the struggle, and not allow themselves to be discouraged. The example of Holland should strike fear into our hearts of a future that awaits us if we do not resist.
One group that will keep quiet about the news from Holland are of course all those who wish to advance the cause of euthanasia in other countries, people such as Lady Warnock. For the truth is that no rational human being would choose to live in a society where euthanasia is commonplace. For as the right to die becomes a duty to die, the shadow of fear falls over all life. One wonders how the elderly population of Holland feels about this and whether any of them have been asked about the current situation. Perhaps in time, some will come to rebel against it. One hopes so, for the sake of humanity.