Holland just became the first nation in the world to legally sanction euthanasia, or mercy killing. One wag suggests the Netherlands might now be called the Netherworld.
In fact, Dutch officials are so worried about the shadow cast over the nation’s reputation that they issued a special bulletin clarifying the new law. Euthanasia is still a criminal offense, the bulletin explains, but doctors who adhere to government guidelines when they kill a patient are guaranteed immunity from prosecution.
Well, “immunity from prosecution” sounds like legality to me. Besides, the new law merely sanctions a practice that Dutch officials have quietly tolerated for 20 years. Annually, physicians in Holland participate in an estimated 3,000 cases of voluntary euthanasia, where the patient asks for the needle.
What most people don’t realize is that another 1,000 cases are involuntary, where the patient is unable to make his wishes known, like mentally retarded patients or newborn infants. Involuntary cases will soon be covered under the new law as well.
This raises deeply troubling questions. Euthanasia is often promoted under the banner of “patient autonomy.” In other words, choice. People say: Shouldn’t a patient have the right to choose whether to suffer an interminable illness?
But in Holland voluntary euthanasia has led straight to involuntary euthanasia—where the doctor unilaterally decides to end a patient’s life if the patient is deemed incapable of making a choice.
The next step on this slippery slope is euthanasia even when the patient is capable of choosing—but the doctor disagrees with the choice. A recent editorial in the Minneapolis Star Tribune argued that patients (or their legal proxies) should not have the right to choose treatment when a doctor feels the patient’s quality of life is not worth it.
The lesson is clear: Euthanasia does its PR work under the slogan of patient choice. But in the end it leads to coercion—where medical personnel decide unilaterally who shall live and die, based on utilitarian and financial grounds.
Well, you say, that’s Holland, not America. But the truth is that we’re setting up the conditions for the same thing on this side of the Atlantic. How? By heralding choice as the ultimate virtue.
Think of the debates over issues like abortion, homosexuality, even divorce. We hear the same argument again and again: As long as a person makes his choice, no one has a right to criticize.
The problem with this argument is that choice cannot be separated from standards. Choice itself has no moral value. It’s merely a process, an act of the will. There has to be a standard, a criterion, before we can judge whether something is a good choice or a bad choice.
Empty choice, with no standards, will always end up in coercion—as the Dutch experiment with euthanasia so poignantly demonstrates.
But there is a standard—the one given us by God in Scripture: “Behold, I have set before you life and death,” God says. “So choose life.”
Humans don’t make things right or wrong by our own choices. There are objective criteria.
And the right choice is the choice for life.