Advocates of assisted suicide tell two—no, three—lies that act as the honey to help the hemlock go down. The first is that assisted suicide/euthanasia is a strictly medical act. Second, they falsely assure us that medicalized killing is only for the terminally ill. Finally, they promise that strict guidelines will be rigorously enforced to protect against abuse.
Recent legislative proposals and developments in the field demonstrate the mendacity of these assurances. For example, a new bill tabled in the Scottish parliament would legalize assisted suicide for “terminal” or “progressive and either terminal or life-shortening” conditions—undefined terms that could easily include chronic ailments such as diabetes, asymptomatic HIV infection, and multiple sclerosis.
Such loose categories are ubiquitous in international assisted suicide advocacy. But the Scottish bill goes a radical step further by creating a new profession—the “licensed suicide facilitator,” authorized by the state to help suicidal patients kill themselves once a doctor has issued a lethal prescription.
Licensed facilitators would be authorized to provide “practical assistance” in the suicide and “reassurance” when a substance “dispensed or otherwise supplied for the suicide of the person is taken.” They would also be authorized to remove lethal drugs—presumably narcotics—from the home after their client died.
Such a heavy responsibility, one would think, should require extensive education in mental health disciplines and medicine. Nope. The legislation leaves it up to regulators to decide what experience and training licensed suicide facilitators will require.
But it’s a good bet that possessing a suicide-friendly ideology will be an important component. For example, the bill specifies that organizations could be licensed—a boon to pro-euthanasia groups, many of which already surreptitiously “counsel” or assist suicides. Not only that, but individuals as young as 16—also the minimum age to receive assistance in committing suicide—would be eligible for licensure. This means that if the bill becomes law, one teenager could be legally authorized to help another teenager commit suicide.
As the Scots continue to wrestle with legalizing assisted suicide, experience in Belgium warns of the consequences of accepting killing as an answer to human suffering. Belgian law allows broad access to euthanasia and assisted suicide when “the patient is in a medically futile condition of constant unbearable physical or mental suffering” caused by an illness or injury, and which cannot be alleviated. That’s a very liberal license. But since 2002, some Belgian doctors have implemented the law as if it permitted death on demand. Consider these well-documented examples:
- the euthanasia of a transsexual repelled by the results of a sex change operation;
- the euthanasia of a depressed anorexia patient who wanted to die after being sexually exploited by her psychiatrist;
- the joint euthanasia of deaf twins, who asked to be killed together when both began losing their eyesight;
- the joint euthanasia of elderly couples who preferred immediate death to eventual widowhood.
Belgian doctors also combine voluntary euthanasia with organ harvesting. One medical journal published an article describing the harvesting of a lung from a mentally ill patient who was identified as a self-harmer. Joint euthanasia/organ harvests have become so normalized that Belgian doctors created a PowerPoint presentation urging colleagues to be on the lookout for suicidal patients with neuro-muscular diseases (such as MS) as potential donors, because unlike cancer patients, they have “high quality organs.”
And now, the Belgian parliament seems likely to legalize child euthanasia: By an overwhelming 50-17, the senate just passed a bill allowing doctors to kill sick children. The justification? It’s happening anyway. “We all know it,” Dominique Biarent, head of intensive care at Queen Fabiola Children’s University Hospital in Brussels told Belga news agency. “Doctors need a framework.”
Let me translate: Belgium’s euthanasia guidelines are a mere veneer that can be violated without consequence. When violations finally come to public light, lawmakers simply amend the law to reflect actual practice.