Stop Cruelty Against Parents of Seriously
Handicapped Newborns by Allowing Them to Choose Active Euthanasia
Wim Rietdijk, D.Sci.
Last year, the Dutch Gehandicaptenraad (Council of handicapped
people) served a writ of defamation against me because I proposed
to institute a right for parents of seriously handicapped newborns
to choose active euthanasia with respect to their child, after
consulting their physician(s). The Council's outrage arised from
their conclusion that I consider the relevant babies (and adults)
as less valuable than other people.
The courts dismissed the
case early this year (2000).
In this context, several points seem important to me:
1. It is immensely cruel to
oblige parents to live with and care for a child that - apart
from many other problems that could arise from its life in a family
- as a rule will not be able to make up for the spiritual and
other sacrifices and investments made by his parents. Mind that
I proposed the law to give them a free choice of active
euthanasia or not.
2. In spite of the fact that,
according to a poll published in de Volkskrant of July
10 1997, 54 percent of the Dutch agreed with the above standpoint
(30 percent was against), no prominent person publicly sided with
me, though I participated in many media events. This showed, inter
alia, our intelligentsia to be somewhat less than courageous
in confronting politically correct dogmatism ("human life
is inviolable") and the cruel idea that "man should
accept what God gives to him". Or, in opposing the even more
stupid idea that everybody can very well be happy with a child
with Down's syndrome (or worse).
3. My argument is that, in by
far most cases, total human well-being - that is, of parents and
offspring - will be served if the relevant parents opt for active
euthanasia whereas, after some time, the wife gives birth to a
healthy new child in the place of the handicapped one.
4. Additionally, it has to be
emphasized that, though the "inviolability thesis" as
regards human life may be consistent from an orthodox-religious
point of view ("all human life has been deliberately created
by God Himself"), it is a downright fallacy from an enlightened
one. I.e., no rationally legitimizable ethic can ever uphold that
human life is "sacred" and inviolable apart from its
qualities. Such dogma does not fit in a secularized philosophy.
For the rest, those who (as
the present author) are convinced of the existence of an afterlife
should see the relevant euthanasia as a means to spare the spirit
of the child in question to live in a deficient "house"
(body) for many years.
What unconscious, unreasonable
and/or immoral motives are at the background of the cruel current
laws forbidding the euthanasia I proposed, and of the violent
opposition against it? Let us see below in (5)-(7).
5. It is well-known that parents
whose son was a war casualty often hate pacifists even more than
many others do. For, actually, such pacifists say: "Your
sacrifice and that of your son were unnecessary; the war should
not have been fought in the first place". (As a non-pacifist,
I can very well understand the parents in question.)
Now those other parents who
have a seriously handicapped child, and who made many sacrifices
in the course of the years, sense me to say: "Such sacrifices
were unnecessary, your child should have been substituted by a
Essentially they are right.
Still, I highly respect their sacrifices, just as I - a non-believer
in the Catholic faith - can get tears in my eyes in deep respect
for, say, a beautiful woman who became a nun, giving up much.
6. One more unconscious motive
of opposition to my proposal can be found within the scope of
sociologist Helmut Schelsky's explanation of the distrust many
ideologists show with respect to technology. The gist of
it is that ideologists, who are eager to comfort, save and manipulate
people by means of their messianism and religious or social utopias
(ideal states) have an interest in man feeling helpless and
dependent with respect to the overwhelming powers of nature.
For, such situation strongly furthers his taking refuge in the
ideologists' message and utopia. Dependent and helpless people
can better be manipulated. (Compare Hitler's success in post-Versailles
and Depression Germany as a related example.)
Well, Schelsky says, it is
precisely technological progress that most of all reduces the
relevant dependence and, therefore, man's sensitivity to ideology
and its manipulating organizers ("Heilsherrschaften").
Hence their distrust...
In this context we see, e.g.,
religion claiming responsibility and authority as to the domains
of life and death, at least temporarily vigorously opposing contraception,
abortion, euthanasia, eugenics and the like. This implies strong
ideological forces - the churches constitute a mere section among
them - to be opposed to what could reduce man's dependence on
and helplessness with respect to Schelsky's "overwhelming
powers of nature". In our case, those of life and death,
including the ones with respect to the seriously handicapped newborns...
Again, "Heilsherrschaften" oppose man taking
his fate into his own hands - by technology, birth control, euthanasia,...
They prefer man's looking at the world in awe and anxiety and,
by utter dependence, his acceptance of what God or fate give him
to bear. In this way, forbidding the active euthanasia I proposed
simply serves the power of various ideological and religious forces
in society. They unconsciously do not want man's dependence on
fate to be reduced, especially not in matters of life and death.
7. In addition, one of the most
powerful interest groups in modern society is the "deprivileged
industry": helping professions, egalitarian ideology and
political parties, redistributive bureaucracies and the like.
Though they do much good too, one major aim of them (and of about
all other organizations and businesses) is to grow. Because
of this, they are allergic to "eugenics", "discrimination"
and the like, for these could reduce the number of "disadvantaged",
or devalue the importance of helping them. Now the handicapped
actually or associatively belong to them too. Again, we see an
instinctive opposition to my proposal, that would indeed reduce
the clientele of the interest group in question, or at least is
considered by many to "discriminate" a part of it.
Though not applying active euthanasia to the incurably insane
or irreversibly demented is not positively cruel - in contrast
with forcing parents to live with, say, a mongol -, not doing
so is irrational if the majority of direct relatives does not
object. I.e., it again results from dogmatically positing the
"inviolability of human life", apart from its quality.
Dear reader, act more courageously
than most Dutch intellectuals and, in your country, put forward
a change of current law in the spirit of what I proposed in The
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