The problems of euthanasia and end-of-life issues are extremely complicated ones, and trying to solve these problems through legislation is often difficult. While the intentional killing of an innocent human being is always morally wrong, one cannot deny that there are real-world cases where the line blurs between what is permitted and what is not.
That being said, there are certain things that should always be prohibited. Murder is always wrong — euthanasia is clearly murder. And nations that accept euthanasia (like Holland or Belgium) quickly land on the slippery slope toward a more generalized disrespect for life.
For instance, in the Netherlands (where euthanasia has been legal since 2002) it is now legal to kill babies and children with certain neurological disorders, like spina bifida. When I attended the Pontifical Council for Life in 2008, I met Dr. T.H.R. de Jong, who spoke at length about the Netherlands and the inhumanity he found there. He talked about how easily he could demonstrate that the diseases that these children were being murdered for were not terminal.
Many children with spina bifida, de Jong contended, are able to lead productive and comfortable lives. According to him: “There is no reason whatsoever for active life-termination of these newborns.” Dr. de Jong was intensely frustrated by the fact that, in his own country, no one was even remotely interested in listening to him on these matters.
But now he has a new hope. Last January, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) approved a Resolution against euthanasia. According to the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ): “this is the first time in recent decades that euthanasia has been so clearly rejected by a European political institution.”
According to European Dignity Watch, “… this is a third major victory for life and dignity of the weakest, after the 2010 resolution that strengthened freedom of conscience for doctors and medical staff and after the European Court of Human Rights asserted last year that there is no right to euthanasia or assisted suicide under the European Convention.”
The Resolution defines the principles that should govern the practice of “living wills” or “advance directives” in Europe. It also emphasizes obligation that physicians have to take into account the desire of the patient when life-saving procedures are being decided. The directives may apply, for example, when there is doubt about whether to resuscitate a patient or to continue to use extraordinary means to maintain his or her life, according to the news agency Zenit.
To prevent abuses, the Resolution employs extremely clear and precise language: “Euthanasia, in the sense of the intentional killing by act or omission of a dependent human being for his or her alleged benefit, must always be prohibited.” (n. 5)
This is very good news.
Additionally the Resolution strongly defines the exact life principles that the legislators need to take into account when discussing “living wills.” First off, they are to only be drawn up for adults (thus prohibiting the Dutch practices of creating them for children) and secondly, “… prior instructions contained in advance directives and/or living wills which are against the law, or good practice, […] should not be applied”.
And lastly, in the words of pro-life Italian legislator Luca Volantè: “Surrogate decisions that rely on general value judgements present in society should not be admissible and, in case of doubt, the decision must always be pro-life and the prolongation of life.”
But the road has just begun.
This Resolution is not binding. Pro-life leaders across Europe now need to pressure their respective governments to actually make legislative change. But now they have a new powerful weapon for do that.
But the moral victory is there, to be sure. In the words of Grégor Puppinck, Director of ECJL: “This resolution is a clear indication that the growing majority of Europeans are opposed to euthanasia. The many abuses occurring in the countries allowing euthanasia are alarming and constitute violations of true human rights. It is convincing that euthanasia must always be prohibited. The small number of European States allowing euthanasia shall review their legislation according to the principles set forth by the PACE.”