Euthanasia Brings End to Belgian Monarchy
by Marie Meaney
By recalling recent events, we can better judge the gravity of King Philippe’s decision. In 2002 Belgium legalized euthanasia for adults. In February of this year, Belgium’s parliament adopted a law that would extend euthanasia to children without an age-limit. The vote was pushed through quickly, despite the open letter of 200 pediatric doctors to the head of the chamber, André Flahaut, asking to postpone the vote and gather more feedback. Dr. Christiane Vermyle, a pediatric oncologist in Louvain, said that the palliative care given to children allows for an end of life that is gentle and without pain; the children can still enjoy special moments with their parents every day thanks to medical treatment at home; in her 30 years of professional experience, she had never been asked to euthanize a child and she didn’t believe it was necessary in terms of pain management. This law was proposed even though no parents in particular asked for the euthanasia law to apply to children. Instead, the socialist senator Philippe Mahoux, who wrote the law, is calling it “humanistic.”
Admittedly, the king of Belgium was in a difficult position. Yes, his uncle, King Baudouin, had abdicated for a day in 1990, in order not to sign a law legalizing abortion, thereby setting a courageous example. 210,000 signatures from 20 countries, collected by CitizenGo, were brought to King Philippe, encouraging him to make the right decision; a charming video of a little girl—whose sickness could in future years have meant her death-warrant, but who recovered through surgery—was addressed to him, begging him to desist. But King Philippe’s father, King Albert II, had signed the law permitting euthanasia in 2002, thereby making things more confusing for his son. Albert’s act was the death knell of the monarchy; his son’s signature is digging its grave. King Philippe was under much pressure and probably had a hard time discerning what to do, especially since he is a practicing Catholic and against euthanasia. He was in all likelihood afraid his refusal would bring about the end of the monarchy in Belgium and all the potential good it could still do (the king is deemed one of the key elements in holding the country together which is in constant tension between its Flemish and its Walloon populations). He is a young and inexperienced king who succeeded to the throne only in July 2013. Yet this offered an opportunity for him to redeem the monarchy, to stand up where his father had backed down. He missed his chance, which is a shame, for it comes with grave consequences.
King Philippe could also point to widespread public disagreement. Some thought there was no right choice, that even his abdication would be similar to Pontius Pilate washing his hands of Christ’s blood. What they failed to see is that Pontius Pilate’s refusal to intervene was not a refusal to participate in an evil act; he still ordered his soldiers to kill Jesus, but wrongly thought he could free himself from all guilt. King Philippe sanctioned an evil law by signing it, while his refusal to do so would have freed him from all responsibility and been an important witness to the world, even though the law was going to be implemented regardless of his decision. His refusal to sign would have been analogous to Pontius Pilate refusing to have Jesus executed. Both buckled under enormous pressure. But they failed to see that the political gain they sought was short-lived.
How will history judge King Philippe’s decision? How will his family view him in generations to come? Once Europe will wake up from its madness and see the horrors it has been perpetrating over half a century, it will look back with admiration at those who stood up. Bishop von Galen is held up as a shining example for his incredibly brave denunciation of Hitler’s euthanasia program. Consider another example: By seeking an early end to WWI by reaching out to Austria’s enemies, Blessed Karl von Habsburg was called a coward and traitor by his ally, Germany, who then marginalized him. His end was by worldly standards a sad one (he died on Madeira in 1922 from pneumonia due to the cold and humid conditions in which he was forced to live), but glorious by heavenly criteria. One day he will be widely acknowledged as a man of peace and a promoter of social reform in a time of warring nationalism and class conflict, challenging the ideologies of his day.
Perhaps King Philippe can make amends. He can still publicly declare his regret for having signed the law and pledge never to make the same mistake again. We can only hope he will admit his error. The monarchy may yet continue as an institution for years to come, but in terms of its purpose and vocation it is surely dead. It has sawed off the branch on which it was sitting and has lost its moral credibility. Paradoxically, signing this law appears to have brought about precisely what King Philippe was trying to avoid.
Editor’s note: The photo in the text was taken in a Brussels cathedral on July 21, 2013, the day Prince Philippe (left) was to ascend to the throne of Belgium. Seated next to him is his father King Albert II. (Photo credit: Reuters.)
Sophia Institute, Holy Spirit College, or the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts.
By Marie Meaney
Marie Meaney received her doctorate and an M. Phil. in Modern Languages from the University of Oxford. She is the author of Simone Weil’s Apologetic Use of Literature: Her Christological Interpretations of Classic Greek Texts (Oxford University Press, 2007). Her booklet Embracing the Cross of Infertility (HLI) has also appeared in Spanish, German, Hungarian and Croatian. Before the birth of her daughter, she was a teaching fellow at Villanova University. She now lives in Rome, Italy. She is the wife of Joseph Meaney of Corpus Christi whose mother, Francette Meaney, is the founder and director of Birthright, Corpus Christi.
What is a Suffering Man Worth?
Recognizing that “[h]ealth is certainly an important value, yet it does not determine a person’s value,” Pope Francis lamented that the lack of health increasingly becomes a justification to exclude and even eliminate persons from fraternal and societal love and care. Even medicine, the healing art, has become the handmaid to such a manifestation of what the Holy Father has been calling the “throw away culture.”
As providence would have it, Pope Francis wrote this letter shortly after Belgium’s lower house of parliament voted 86-44 to legalize euthanasia of children and the elderly suffering from dementia. The Senate had already overwhelmingly passed this disturbing law and King Philippe only days ago caved to pressure and signed the legislation. He did not have the courage to proclaim, by his refusal to sign, that this law rejects two undeniable facts about human existence: 1) After the Fall, suffering is an inevitable aspect of the human condition, and there can, therefore, be no “right” to avoid suffering by taking one’s life prematurely, and 2) We are called to respond to suffering by acts of solidarity with the sufferer, not his elimination.
A society is measured by its response to the most vulnerable, including those in poor or declining health. Sadly, the United States has not measured up.
The model for laws that permit physician assisted suicide or euthanasia was introduced in the United States when the state of Oregon first legalized Physician Assisted Suicide in 1997. Belgium is following our lead and taking our utilitarian laws to their logical conclusions. But such conclusions are also found on our shores. Consider the words of Ezekiel Emanuel, influencer, if not architect of the end of life provisions of the Affordable Care Act: “Services provided to individuals who are irreversibly prevented from being or becoming participating citizens are not basic and should not be guaranteed. An obvious example is not guaranteeing health services to patients with dementia.”
And what of those patients with dementia, who are no longer “participating citizens?” Increasingly a physician’s assistance with suicide or euthanasia is considered a medical treatment, an option along the continuum of care that may be provided to a patient if it is deemed to be in his best interest. So it was argued by the pro-euthanasia camp in 2009 in a case brought to the Connecticut courts: “‘Aid in dying’ [a euphemism for assisted suicide] is a recognized term of medical art” and “may, in the professional judgment of a physician, be medically and ethically appropriate course of treatment.”
Suicide is a “medical art” which may be administered when a physician decides such “medical care” is most in keeping with the needs of a patient? I can’t be the only one made uncomfortable by such a claim. The cold logic of those who promote suicide and euthanasia needs an equally forceful response. And Pope Francis has provided it: “[I]n our society one encounters the tyrannical dominion forced upon us by a logic of economics that discounts, excludes, and at times even kills our elderly—and today so many fall victim to this…. The lack of health or the fact of one’s disability are never valid reasons for exclusion or, and what is worse, the elimination of persons.”
I recently had lunch with a dear friend who I had not seen for two years. Her husband has dementia and his declining health has truly taken a toll on both of them. As we spoke, I could not help but marvel at the simple love, compassion, and patience she models as she cares for and sacrifices for her spouse of many years. While it may not be a fairytale ending, I could hardly think of anything more beautiful than a faithful wife, accompanying and loving her husband, in sickness and health. What a beautiful witness she is.
Every person facing declining health such as one who suffers from dementia is owed a loving presence, a warm embrace, and tender love. “The gravest deprivation experienced by the aged” Pope Francis teaches, “is the abandonment, exclusion and deprivation of love.”
The people of Belgium, and the United States would do well to recognize that no matter the euphemism employed, assisting someone to take their life is and will always be a blatant act of abandonment and exclusion that deprives vulnerable persons of love. A compassionate society will reject such false solutions and will ensure that medicine is placed at the service of the life and integral good of each person.
Editor’s note: Above, Pope Francis delivers an address to diplomats January 13, 2014 in which he describes the world’s indifference to human dignity and life as a “throwaway culture.” (Photo credit: Reuters.)
Sophia Institute, Holy Spirit College, or the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts.