Agence France Press reports the first public case of a Dutch patient euthanized even though she had never formally requested death or followed the required legal protocols.
The woman, identified only as being 64 years old and from the south of Holland, was reportedly killed illegally in a hospital last March. The medical board that approves each act of euthanasia in Holland knew she had never formally asked to have her life ended. It also found she was far too cognitively diminished by Alzheimer’s to make a rational choice in her fate. Still, her killing was excused because some years before she said she wanted to die rather than endure the ravages of the disease’s late stages. Groups favouring medical execution jumped on her death as a happy, progressive precedent.
“It’s a message for doctors who often refuse to euthanize patients with advanced dementia because they haven’t expressly demanded it,” said a spokesperson for the Dutch Association for Voluntary End of Life.
A clear message, indeed. And not just for doctors. Rather, for anyone who cares about the transformation of health care into killing care.
Alas, its alarming note of sophisticated barbarism came too late for a group of Quebec politicians who visited Europe last summer to inquire on the state of the continent’s medicalized-death industry. Four members of the Quebec National Assembly’s special committee on legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide toured the “final exit” wards of Belgium and Holland. The foursome returned home loudly declaring no evidence exists of a “slippery slope” toward a wholesale slaughter of the invalids in the Benelux countries.
Maryse Gaudreault, MNA for the riding of Hull and chairman of Quebec’s special committee on legalizing euthanasia, insisted publicly that safeguards in Holland and Belgium are sufficient to prevent abuse. Doctors, Gaudreault said, are strictly limited to killing only those who meet ironclad administrative requirements.
Yet even as Quebec’s intrepid euthanasia explorers were packing their bags for their European trip, Dutch doctors were reportedly breaking out the needle and syringe, and brazenly breaking the law, to end a woman’s life.
No slippery slope? Well, okay. But then why are so many people sliding into graves before their natural time is up?
And that’s just the problem with slippery slopes, isn’t it? By their nature, they are impossible to recognize once we’re on them because the very act of getting onto them is an exercise in denial. We’ll take only the first step. We’ll stop sliding soon. We really haven’t slid that far. This is where we meant to be all along. There never was a top of the slope anyway.
Such denial is particularly seductive in our age of immense material comfort when almost every detail of life is upholstered, cushioned, wrapped in the velour of the smooth, the warm and the easy. It’s all protection against the wrenching dislocation of cause from effect, which is the necessary condition for the civilized savagery in which we now exist.
The great British writer, G. K. Chesterton, argued in his book The Everlasting Man against the thesis that civilization emerged from savagery (or barbarism). No, Chesterton said, savagery (barbarism) and civilization have always existed in the world, and in the human heart, in parallel, like the front and back planes of a slope. History, he argued, is the movement back and forth between the two conditions, an oscillation rather than an evolution.
We must never forget that Chesterton’s message was one of everlasting hope. Yet we seem, in the 86 years since The Everlasting Man was published, to have slid civilization and savagery ever closer together until the two are almost one. In conditions of immense material splendour, we deal out death with zeal to rival the cannibals, headhunters and human sacrificers of yesteryear.
The difference is that our death needles slide into arms neatly and cleanly. Our machines of suffocation simply go silent and no screams sound. Our clear plastic suction tubes bear the corpse’s blood away before it can stain the ground.
Most profoundly of all, our language has acquired an elasticity that not only denies cause and effect but makes appreciation of it impossible. How, for example, can we possibly appreciate what we are doing by deliberately injecting a 64-year-old Alzheimer’s patient with fatal drugs when, in our new language, killing is caring, assisted suicide is free will and death is just another consumer desire?
There is, we are assured, no slippery slope. And down we go, sliding all the way.