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 healthy one".
       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 Netherlands.

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