Belgium’s culture of death makes one try to imagine a world without Helen Keller

I think most of us found extremely disturbing the story out of Belgium telling about twin brothers in their 40s who were born deaf and were starting to go blind, and who found a doctor willing to legally euthanize them.  They weren’t sick and they weren’t suffering physically.  They just feared a future that added blindness to deafness.

I’m sympathetic to their concerns.  To be locked into your head like that must be very frightening.  But to make it a legitimate cause for government sanctioned death?  It’s an appalling thought.

I can see a very easy trajectory here.  It starts with people asking the government for permission to kill themselves.  The government grants that permission.  A few years of this, and you end with a government that starts thinking “Hey, there are some people who want this, so maybe others do and just aren’t speaking up, or don’t really know what they want.  Anyway, people who are suffering from these disabilities place an economic burden on society.  Let’s just make death automatic.”

Keep in mind that this trajectory is how the Nazis started their killing spree.  During the 1930s, “for the good of individuals and society,” they started euthanizing the unfit, whether they were mentally or physically disabled.

In my family, this has never been an abstract issue.  I had two relatives, one Jewish and one Christian, both of whom the Nazis “euthanized” in the 1930s because of mental health issues (or, in the case of the Christian, it might have been because he was gay — my mother doesn’t remember, as she was a young child at the time).  As we know, having discovered the institutionalized murder is easy, the Nazis expanded the scope, and begin killing Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, “deviants,” etc., while “merely” enslaving all sorts of other, less-than-worthy (in Nazi eyes) people.

But to get back to those twin brothers.  James Thunder reminds us that Helen Keller, at very young age, became both deaf and blind.  Thanks to her partnership with the amazing Annie Sullivan, those women became two of the most inspirational figures in the 20th century.  They were a triumph of patience, love, loyalty, faith, commitment, intelligence, and humanity.  It’s unnerving to think that, if Helen Keller lived in modern Belgium, and had a bad patch in her life, the government would quite cheerfully have euthanized her.