"There will be casualties"

Michael Cook
19 February 2010
Reproduced with Permission

Australian euthanasia activist Dr Philip Nitschke loves publicity. But whenever he opens his mouth, even the most progressive journalists avert their eyes in squeamish embarrassment. This week's gaffe was to defend his barely legal promotion of a suicide drug for the elderly and terminally ill. It turns out that nearly two-thirds of the Australians who died after quaffing Nembutal - at least 51 over the past 10 years -- were under 60, and quite a few were in the 20s and 30s. This suggests that mental illness or depression, not unbearable pain, was the reason for the suicide. So how did Nitschke respond?

"There will be some casualties," he said with the tenderness of General Haig sending troops over the top at the Somme, "but this has to be balanced with the growing pool of older people who feel immense well-being from having access to this information," [about suicide drugs].

The notion that young people are just collateral damage in a war to defend their grandparents' inalienable right to make a quick getaway outraged many Australians. There were calls for Dr Nitschke to be hauled into a court for putting lives at risk.

But after tracking the increasingly outrageous suggestions from advocates for assisted suicide and euthanasia, I feel that jail is not the place for people like Nitschke. They belong in a straitjacket. It is becoming increasingly clear that euthanasia advocacy is an illness characterised by an unwillingness to take responsibility for one's actions, an inability to empathise with normal people, and a morbid desire to help others die. Like mad cow disease, it lies dormant for years. Its victims look normal, but eventually the spongy degeneration of the brain becomes evident.

Nitschke is a classical case. An intelligent man with a PhD in physics and a qualified doctor, he entered the public debate by decrying the cruelty of forcing the terminally ill to die in excruciating pain. Autonomous adults should have the right to die at a time and place of their choosing, surrounded by their loved one, he argued. It sounded vaguely plausible to the media and to his doddering but increasingly numerous groupies, it was a new gospel. But bit by bit, it became clear that his goal was death-on-demand, even for troubled teenagers. He seems incapable of grasping that most of us want teenagers to stick around for a few more years rather than kill themselves over a cruel Facebook post.

In England, the latest case of euthanasia madness is a 70-year-old veteran BBC broadcaster and gay rights campaigner, Ray Gosling. He confessed in the middle of a TV show that he had smothered an unnamed gay lover suffering from AIDS some 20 years ago.

"In a hospital one hot afternoon, the doctor said 'There's nothing we can do', and he was in terrible, terrible pain. I said to the doctor 'Leave me just for a bit' and he went away. I picked up the pillow and smothered him until he was dead. The doctor came back and I said 'He's gone'. Nothing more was ever said."

Mr Gosling sobbed a bit, but was adamant that killing someone and concealing the murder was the right thing. "If there's a heaven and he's looking down, he'd be proud of me," he told the BBC. He was oblivious to all the safeguards promised by euthanasia advocates. A right to smother someone, anywhere, anytime, without consulting doctors, without notifying the police, without proving your disinterestedness, and without even consulting the victim raises questions in most sane minds about the possibility of widespread collateral damage. Perhaps only BBC journalists would be allowed to do mercy killings, but some sane people might even object to that.

In the Netherlands euthanasia loopiness has become epidemic. It is legal there and every year about 2,500 acknowledged cases of doctor-administered death take place.

But amongst the numerous Dutch victims of spongy-brained euthanasia syndrome some are more affected than others. Recently a distinguished group called "Out of Free Will" has complained that there are too many restrictions on euthanasia in the Netherlands. Even in the mercy-killing heartland, people are required to have some sort of terminal illness. But the new lobby group wants the right for to anyone sane over the age of 70 to die with a professionally-trained expert's assistance. They have already begun collecting 40,000 signatures so that the Dutch Parliament is forced to debate the proposal.

Part of their scheme is a completely new profession: specialist suicide assistants. These people will need to pass a "Completed Life" training program and to join a professional association which will maintain standards of professional, transparent and safe conduct.

The age limit of 70 is arbitrary. "Whether it should be 65 or 90 is a good question," says legal scholar Eugene Sutorius. "We think that once someone has reached old age, he has proved abilities at living. He can then choose to leave this life in a procedural, medicalised manner."

Three spokesmen told the NRC Handelsblad that collateral damage by "angels of death" in nursing homes - rogue doctors and nurses who enjoy killing people -- was unlikely to be a problem, especially in view of the country's positive experience with euthanasia. "It was thought to be the first step on a slippery slope that would lead the medical profession to lose its integrity," says Mr Sutorius. "But I have seen nothing of the kind happen."

That last sentence is a tell-tale symptom of spongy-brain euthanasia disease. Before euthanasia was legalised, Dutch doctors were already doing it enthusiastically. It was legalised for consenting adults in pain from a terminal condition, and now it is permitted for non-consenting infants. Dutch doctors routinely lie on their official reports. If they are squeamish about lethal injections, they kill patients through the lingering death of terminal sedation - which is not counted as euthanasia. All these facts are well known. Yet Mr Sutorius sees no slippery slope, no loss of medical integrity. Mr Sutorius belongs in a straitjacket, not in a comfy chair giving interviews. (If you speak Dutch, he explains his position here in a YouTube video.)

What is happening here? How can intelligent, well-educated people be so obtuse about the dangers of legalising the killing of innocent, infirm human beings? Perhaps the conviction that some killing is permissible is so morally corrupting that it infects the intellect and distorts reality. And arguing with them is futile. As Chesterton wrote:

If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgement. He is not hampered by a sense of humour or by charity, or by the dumb certainties of experience. He is the more logical for losing certain sane affections. Indeed, the common phrase for insanity is in this respect a misleading one. The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.