Many years ago, when Holland first enacted its euthanasia law, NPR ran an interview with a Dutchman who explained why euthanasia was a good idea in Holland, while it would be a terrible idea in America. The secret to Holland’s euthanasia, he said, was socialized medicine. The man explained that, in America, where medical costs could bankrupt families, those with terminal illnesses could be actively or passively coerced into turning to euthanasia in order to save their family’s finances.
Put another way, this man and the NPR host who interviewed him were both certain that Americans, when given the choice, would cheerfully throw Grandma from the train in order to save some money. Europeans, the Dutchman explained, with their cradle to grave care, would never be pressured into killing themselves. The beneficent state would pay all the medical bills, so money would not be an issue when it came to life and death decisions. The only thing that would matter in Europe, said this Dutchman, was the terminally ill person’s wishes.
I, being a good liberal back in the day, enthusiastically endorsed what he had to say. Clearly, euthanasia was a dreadful idea in America, where money was God, and people would be tempted to slip arsenic into their dying child’s broth in order to save the college fund for the next kid in line.
History has revealed that this Dutchman was absolutely and completely wrong. In America, people have willingly bankrupted themselves to save beloved family members. Mammon becomes meaningless when an extra treatment might give your child or a young mother a few more days, weeks, or years of life. People have hearts and souls. They connect to others, especially to those in their families.
It’s very different in socialist states, where euthanasia is the name of the game, often without the patient’s, or her family’s, agreement. England had the scandal of the Liverpool Care Pathway. It was meant to be a national hospice program that provided palliative care to the terminally ill in their final days. What ended up happening, of course, when the National Health Service started running out of money is that thousands (even tens of thousands) of elderly patients who were terminally ill, but weren’t anywhere near death’s door, were hastened to their deaths. They had become too expensive or just too difficult to manage.
It turns out that, twenty-odd years ago, when I heard that Dutchman speak, he had failed to consider two pertinent facts: First, socialist states invariably run out of money once they finally destroy their productive class; and second, the state has neither heart nor soul. To you, Patient X is your beloved mother, or brother, or child. To the state, Patient X is an unnecessary cost to an already strained system.
What frightens me is that, in Obama’s America, even before socialized medicine takes over, we might be losing the heart and soul that distinguishes individuals from the state. The Anchoress found at Salon an article in which Mary Elizabeth Williams, who supports abortion, finally comes out and said it: So what if abortion ends life? It’s almost refreshing to see this kind of honesty about one side of a divisive issue:
Here’s the complicated reality in which we live: All life is not equal. That’s a difficult thing for liberals like me to talk about, lest we wind up looking like death-panel-loving, kill-your-grandma-and-your-precious-baby storm troopers. Yet a fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her. Always.
And I would put the life of a mother over the life of a fetus every single time — even if I still need to acknowledge my conviction that the fetus is indeed a life. A life worth sacrificing.
The Anchoress slices and dices the whole argument, but I found this point particularly compelling:
A point of order, please: One may certainly sacrifice one’s own life for another. That is what makes it a sacrifice. Sacrificing “another’s” life is not a sacrifice, unless that other person actually (like Jesus Christ or a soldier who has volunteered to serve, or a mother like this one) says, “yes, I will be sacrificed for the sake of others.”
Absent that permission, though, it’s not a sacrifice. It’s just an expedient, and wasteful killing.
In fact, the notion that someone else’s life is “worth sacrificing” for the furtherance of one’s own situation — the mindset that can advance that thinking — is precisely one that deserves the name “diabolical.”
Although both the Salon article and the Anchoress’ rebuttal focus on the beginning of life, the whole article is unnerving about life’s end too. The writer’s approach to human beings — we must sacrifice innocent lives for the greater good — has the same stark utilitarian logic found in the heartless and soulless socialist state that readily puts humans on a death pathway because they’re too expensive to care for.
Twenty years ago, I wrongly thought that a state’s magisterial power and wealth would be more pro-life than the human ties that bind people together. I’m now scared that, twenty years hence, both states and humans will cheerfully dispatch any expenses or inconveniences. And yes, it can happen here. It happened in Germany, it happened in the Soviet Union, it happened in Turkey, it happened in Cambodia, it happened in Rwanda….
Whether one believes that the Bible is God’s handiwork or man’s, it is a book of inestimable wisdom about humankind’s strengths and foibles. The constant exhortations to life stand as a reminder that man wears his civilization very lightly and that, beneath it, there is animal savagery, without any sense of morals, ethic, justice, or love. It would be interesting to see what that long ago Dutchman, or the representations of the National Health Service, or even Mary Elizabeth Williams would say about the Biblical injunction to “choose life.“