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Slippery Slope of Euthanasia for Children

Interview With Bioethicist Father Gonzalo Miranda

ROME, SEPT. 7, 2004 (Zenit) - The Netherlands' decision to allow the euthanasia of children could lead to the practice of arbitrarily deciding which youngsters will live or die, warns a leading bioethicist.

On Aug. 30, the Dutch judiciary allowed Groningen's University Hospital to induce the death of children under 12, including newborns, when they are suffering from incurable sicknesses or undergoing unbearable suffering. A 2002 law already regulated the practice of euthanasia in the country.

"Unfortunately, all the concerns that arose in regard to the Dutch legislation on euthanasia are being tragically verified," Legionary of Christ Father Gonzalo Miranda says in this interview with US.

Father Miranda, dean of the School of Bioethics of the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University, represented the Catholic Church on UNESCO's International Bioethics Committee, entrusted with writing a Declaration on Universal Norms of Bioethics.

Q: To what does the decision refer?

Father Miranda: This measure, which allows the application of euthanasia to all the born, demonstrates that the famous "slippery slope" theory was correct.

Once a principle is established according to which a human being can be killed because he suffers, then logically it extends to all those suffering. If a human being is killed who requests it, it can be applied to all human beings who request it, even if they are not suffering.

When discussion on euthanasia began in the Netherlands and in other countries, many pointed out the danger of sliding toward the worst, and the defenders of the measure said that it would not happen. Instead, many took off in 1993 with the legalization of euthanasia, and then the law came out that extended [it] to children 12 and over.

Despite the opposition of public opinion, just two years after that law, we are already facing its application to all the born, without any kind of informed consent by the interested party.

I would like to stress that it is the voluntary murder of a human being who cannot speak for himself -- the voluntary murder of a human being who cannot express what he is thinking.

Q: John Paul II has often intervened to warn the international community about the dangers of the "culture of death." What "culture" is that?

Father Miranda: It is not saying that our society is thirsty for blood and death; this is not so.

Rather, it is a culture in which death is seen as a solution to problems that we do not know how to handle in another way -- problems that we do not know how to handle because we have lost generosity, the ability to support the one who suffers.

In this case it is obvious: Death is proposed as the solution to children who suffer. The alternative would be to support these children, to help them not to suffer -- and this costs, both economically as well as emotionally.

Q: However, extreme suffering can lead people to ask for death ...

Father Miranda: It is one thing to say, in moments of despair, that one desires death, and this is a human sentiment. It is quite another to say that one will bring about death.

Who can say that your life is not worth living, that the best thing is for you to die? This is not an invocation of death, but of the voluntary murder of the other.

We find the emotional, psychological desire for death even in sacred Scripture.

Jeremiah and Job, overwhelmed by suffering, curse the day of their birth. "Cursed be the day on which I was born! May the day my mother gave me birth, never be blessed! [...] because he did not dispatch me in the womb! Then my mother would have been my grave. ... Why did I come forth from the womb, to see sorrow and pain, to end my days in shame?" [see Jeremiah 20:14-18].

And also: "Why is light given to the toilers, and life to the bitter in spirit? They wait for death and it comes not; they search for it rather than for hidden treasures, rejoice in it exultingly, and are glad when they reach the grave" [Job 3: 20-22].

It is a human sentiment that anyone can have, while here it is Cain who decides to murder his brother.

Now the doctor, together with the parents, might decide to eliminate the children who, according to the former, should not live.

Q: Several press articles report the statements of a Dutch doctor who says that it is a procedure that will be applied with much rigor. What is your opinion?

Father Miranda: The topic is very dangerous because it is about technical rigor, not moral rigor. It means to apply rigorous technical procedures. The Nazis also proceeded to practice euthanasia with extreme rigor.

In the early '90s I was invited to a world meeting of neurosurgeons to discuss what should be done when a child is born with a [...]very serious neurological illness.

Two opposite positions arose from the debate. On one hand, an Israeli doctor who operated on children with excellent results. The patients needed follow-up treatment, but had a relatively normal life.

On the other hand, a Dutch doctor explained how, in the clinic where he worked, the children affected by this sickness were eliminated by being injected with a lethal substance.

Only after hearing a lecture on what the human person is, did this doctor say that perhaps such a practice should be questioned. Faced with the same sickness, some doctors operate and others opted for death, which now is also legal.

The most frightening aspect of this story is to see with what superficiality and banality the decision is made to kill children.

Q: From a civil and moral point of view, how can this decision of the Dutch magistracy be evaluated?

Father Miranda: They are behaving as they did in Sparta, killing children with selective criteria. The battles fought for centuries on the vindication of human rights seem annulled given these decisions.

We are witnessing the negation of Judeo-Christian thought. In the tradition of Western thought, a person has intrinsic value by the simple fact of being a human being.

The Declaration of Human Rights states in Article 2 that rights apply to all without any distinction of any kind; in this instance, however, the human being has "value" according to his physical and psychic conditions.

The moment it is thought that, given his conditions he has "no value," then he is eliminated; in sum, anyone can decide to kill him.

Q: There is talk of the re-emergence of the eugenic mentality.

Father Miranda: This eugenic mentality is already applied with the practice of abortion. If there had been a diagnosis that had discovered the sickness during the pregnancy, the child would probably never have been born.

As he escaped that control, euthanasia is practiced after the birth. It is a practice by which human beings are eliminated who are considered "not valid" -- precisely a eugenic practice of elimination of what some consider to be "defective."

Q: The Roman newspaper La Repubblica on August 31 stated that the Dutch situation is "different from Nazi eugenics" because "the Hitlerian doctors eliminated healthy children by force with lethal injections because they were Jews or gypsies."

Father Miranda: Sadly, the article published by La Repubblica gives erroneous information. In the Netherlands too, children are eliminated with lethal injections. Moreover, the author of the article perhaps does not know that Hitler's euthanasia program was rigorously reserved for Germans; only later was it extended to other ethnic groups.

The Nazi program was directed to children born with sicknesses that, according to its point of view, threatened physical integrity.

The first case of euthanasia was practiced on a boy who had a harelip. It occurred at the request of the parents who, fearing that he would have an unhappy life, asked the doctors of the Hitlerian regime for help; they advised euthanasia.


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Euthanasia, Children, Bioethics, Death, Law

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