September 19, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Monday, September 19, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The culture of death advances: A child euthanized in Belgium
The euthanasia of a child is now a reality. CNN reported from Brussels over the weekend,
“A terminally ill minor has become the first child to be euthanized in Belgium since age restrictions were lifted in the country two years ago, according to several sources.”Show Full Transcript
CNN cited a Belgian lawmaker who told the CNN affiliate VTM,
“The physician-assisted suicide happened within the past week.”
CNN reported that,
“The child, who was suffering from an incurable disease, had asked for euthanasia.”
This according to the legislator from Belgium.
“The identity of the child and age are unknown,” reported CNN on Saturday.
The legislator said this:
“I think it’s very important that we, as a society, have given the opportunity to those people to decide for themselves in what manner they cope with that situation,” said Gucht, a supporter of euthanasia legislation.”
Now in terms of the Christian worldview and our necessary observation of what is revealed in moral language, we note very disturbing language in this legislator’s usage. He says “those people” and “that situation,” referring to those who become the victims of euthanasia and to that situation presumably being a situation that could involve end-of-life questions with terminal illness or incurable suffering or any number of other issues. It’s all reduced here merely to “those people” and “that situation.” Why is that problematic? It’s problematic because those people are not acknowledged in this kind of language to be human beings each and every one of whom is made in the image of God. Human life is simply diminished in this case to “those people” now.
In the American political discourse we note that when someone uses language like “those people,” they’re almost immediately recognized as having objectified some segment of the population. And that’s exactly what is happening here. Furthermore, the situation of terminal suffering or an incurable disease or, we shall note in Belgium, any problem that could lead any person of any age at any time to request suicide, merely becomes “that situation.” That’s the kind of language perhaps we should expect from a legislator who supports the idea of physician-assisted suicide and beyond that of euthanasia. The news coming out of Belgium is disturbing at every level and at the deepest urgency. Because what we’re talking about here is a minor, categorically defined as someone who is not yet legally an adult, who has been the recipient of the request for euthanasia and whose life has now been ended and ended in just the last several days.
Back in 2014, Belgium became the first nation on earth to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide regardless of age. We should note that Belgium and the Netherlands represent the leading edge of the development of assisted suicide and euthanasia in terms of the world. Switzerland is very close to Belgium and the Netherlands, but those last two nations still remain the most radical when it comes to euthanasia. Back in 2014 when Belgium did authorize the legalization of euthanasia regardless of age, the BBC reported that when it did so it became the first country in the world to remove any age limit to the practice. The BBC went on to report back then, when it was hypothetical in 2014, that euthanasia or assisted suicide was, according to the legislation, to be requested by terminally ill children who are in great pain and also have parental consent. In the Netherlands they lowered the age to 12. Remember in Belgium there is no age whatsoever in terms of limitation, but for minors a parent’s consent is required. In the Netherlands, the lowest age is 12, but parental consent is not necessary.
According to the law in the Netherlands, parents must be consulted, but even parents do not have a veto power over the euthanasia of their own children. We’re looking here at the chilling contours of the culture of death and we see how it is creeping not only from country to country or, in the United States, from state to state in terms of legalized assisted suicide, but we also note how those who qualify to request assisted suicide and euthanasia are redefined.
In formal logic and in moral discourse we are often warned against using what are called slippery slope theories. A slippery slope argument comes down to this: The argument is made that if A happens, B is likely and C might be inevitable. We can understand why that kind of language is often used and why sometimes it doesn’t actually turn out to be logically required. Sometimes people do A and they never get to B or C. But when it comes to something like the logic of the culture of death, we are looking at a slippery slope that isn’t theoretical; it’s actually deadly as well as slippery. And when it comes to so-called slippery slope arguments, they are only inauthentic or fallacious if causality is not included. In other words, it doesn’t actually make logical sense to say that B or C will happen if A happens if you do not provide causality. But chillingly, horrifyingly, the causality is provided here. That causality is twofold. It is the denial of the sanctity of human life and it is the worship of human autonomy. Eventually, if you worship human autonomy, you can’t worship that autonomy only for those who are legally defined as adults. Eventually you have to eliminate childhood as a meaningful category.
If human beings are autonomous, then in some sense they must be born autonomous or at least recognized to be autonomous as soon as is possible. The extension of the so-called right to euthanasia or assisted suicide to minors in both the Netherlands and Belgium reflects that worship, indeed it’s an idolatry, of personal autonomy and of course, the sanctity of human life is denied. And that did not begin with either assisted suicide or euthanasia. It began with any number of developments, but at the center of those have to be the issue of abortion. Just think in these terms: You do not find legalized assisted suicide or euthanasia except where you have already found legalized abortion. The denial of the sanctity of human life at one end of the spectrum leads to the denial of the sanctity of human life at every point in the spectrum, and in particular where the issues can be most difficult at the end. But here we are talking about the euthanasia of a child; we’re talking about the assisted suicide, the physician assisted suicide, of a minor.
The report that came from the BBC yesterday indicates that the minor was actually age 17. Now here’s what’s going to be interesting about that new report. There are almost assuredly going to be people who would be far more horrified if the child were aged 7 than 17. And then we need ask the question, why would that be so? It’s because you have many people who are quite squeamish and squishy on the issue who nonetheless are basically committed to the idea of personal autonomy as the only significant moral issue but the question for them is when that autonomy might be recognized to kick in. But here we simply have to note there is no arbitrary age, not even the age legally of adulthood. The Netherlands and Belgium have seen to that. In the United States, where state-by-state voters seem to be approving measures to legalize assisted suicide, voters are being told that there is an absolute guarantee that it will be extended as a right, newly, legally defined only to those who are adults and only under a finite set of circumstances.
But what we have seen virtually everywhere assisted suicide and euthanasia have become legal is that both in terms of the age and the other criteria, those specifications simply do not hold. The culture of death eventually expands by redefinition. Back in 2002 when the Netherlands and Belgium became among the very first nations to legalize assisted suicide, we were told that it would be only extended in terms of assisted suicide, not euthanasia. To qualify those terms, assisted suicide is assisting anyone in any way by any means to commit suicide. Physician-assisted suicide is the legalization of that process under the supervision of a physician. Now remember, those doctors at least historically have been committed to the Hippocratic oath which forbids doctors from doing anything to hasten death. That represents the redefinition of medical ethics in just one generation. Euthanasia comes from the Greek source, which means the good death. It is the effort and indeed it is the human hubris to believe that we can define the terms that would to our own satisfaction be a good death; and it includes assisted suicide, but it also includes measures far beyond what would legally be defined as assisted suicide. Voluntary euthanasia is supposedly the killing of someone who voluntarily decides the year she wants to be killed. But involuntary euthanasia is the very next step. It is the killing of someone whose life is determined to be unworthy of life without their conscious permission or perhaps their permission at all. You can see why this is a specific threat to the disabled and to the elderly. Advocates of both understand that assisted suicide and euthanasia are going to be society’s easy way out of living with the complications or the burden of paying for the financial cost of healthcare and other care for individuals in those specific situations. When you start having a legislature talk about persons as merely ‘those persons’ and the problems of human suffering as merely ‘that problem’, well, you can see how eventually it all gets put into a cost-benefit matrix, and that’s what the advocates for the disabled and for the elderly must fear. But we must all understand that there isn’t a single human life that wouldn’t be safe from the creeping logic of assisted suicide and euthanasia.
We see that in the nation of Belgium, where there have been at least some persons who have requested and received assisted suicide—in the Netherlands as well, also we are told in Switzerland—merely for psychiatric problems, not intractable physical suffering. Furthermore, although in Belgium and the Netherlands and in the several United States that have adopted legalized physician assisted suicide, voters are told at least originally that there would be the requirement of a defined diagnosis and incurable or terminal disease, that is no longer really the case. In Canada for example, the operant law now says that there must be some kind of terminal situation on the horizon. Well, you could make the argument that for human beings that begins at the very moment of our conception.
In the BBC’s report, that is the British Broadcasting Corporation’s report, yesterday on the euthanasia in Belgium of the teenagers, the head of what’s identified as the Euthanasia Commission in that country said that the teenager was “nearly 18.” Now here we have to watch what’s going to happen. Now we are told that the patient who had been euthanized was almost 18. The next news story presumably could tell us that the patient was almost 17, almost 16, almost 15. This is not a slippery slope argument. We are nearing the very bottom of the slope. Concerned sources in Belgium back in 2014 when the legislation was adopted pointed out that young persons, that is legal minors in Belgium, aren’t allowed to vote and they aren’t allowed to make decisions even about their own schooling, but they supposedly have the competence to make decisions about requesting the end of their own lives.
Furthermore, when we look at what is taking place in Belgium and the headlines driven this time by the euthanasia of a teenager, we also need to consider that the BBC reported just a matter of weeks ago that a man in that country is now seeking to end his life because he cannot accept his sexuality. According to the BBC report, the man has asked for euthanasia and this is now being considered by the euthanasia commission in that country, because he finds himself in an agonizing disconnection with his own sexuality. For Christians we have to understand that once you adopt the worldview of the culture of death, there is no stop to its logic. There might be brakes applied here and there, largely merely by moral sentiment, but those brakes do not hold. We have seen that in the course of just a single generation, legal euthanasia in both Belgium and the Netherlands has been extended not only to adults, but also to minors, not only to those with a clear diagnosis of the terminal stage of a physical disease that is incurable, but to psychological or psychiatric distress—now, perhaps even merely to acute loneliness in the case that has been well-documented, one case in Belgium, and perhaps even the awkwardness of one’s sexuality in terms of news coming just in the last several weeks. When the culture of death begins to creep, it doesn’t creep for long. It begins to crawl, and after it begins to crawl, it begins to walk. After it walks, it runs and quite quickly, the sanctity of human life itself is virtually run over.
From he to she in first grade? Redefining gender at age six
Next, a story from here in the United States. It is the “Modern Love” column that appeared in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times, very often that column turns out to be a massive moral barometer for our times, and it is in this case. Here’s the headline,
“From He to She in First Grade.”
I bet it has your attention. Laurie Frankel is writing in the first person when she writes,
“When our son turned 6, my husband and I bought him a puppet theater and a chest of dress-up clothes because he liked to put on plays. We filled the chest with 20 items from Goodwill, mostly grown-man attire: ties, button-down shirts, a gray pageboy cap and a suit vest.
“But we didn’t want his or his castmates’ creative output to be curtailed by a lack of costume choices, so we also included high heels, a pink straw hat, a dazzling fairy skirt and a sparkly green halter dress.”
Frankel then writes,
“He was thrilled with these presents. He put on the sparkly green dress right away. In a sense, he never really took it off.
“For a while,” she writes, “he wore the dress only when we were at home, and only when we were alone. He would change back into shorts and a T-shirt if we were running errands or had people coming over.”
The story unfolds as Frankel tells it with the boy stopping changing out of the dress.
“He wore it to the grocery store and when he had friends over. He wore it to the park and the lake. He wore shorts for camp and trunks for swimming, but otherwise he was mostly in the dress.”
In one of the most interesting paragraphs in the article Frankel writes,
“My husband and I were never of the opinion that girls should not wear pants or climb trees or get dirty, or that boys should not have long hair or play with dolls or like pink, so the dress did not cause us undue alarm or worry. But school was about to start, and we found ourselves at a crossroads.”
She said that the parents thinking to themselves, thought it might be reasonable to say,
“Wear whatever you’re comfortable in to school. If that’s what you want to wear, you don’t have to keep changing in and out of it.”
But she said there was another voice in their heads that said,
“Dresses are for play at home only. The dress is fun, but you can’t wear it to first grade.”
Now as the column unfolds, it’s clear that the boy is going to wear the dress to school, and so he does with the full support of his parents, and his parents make very clear that they had strategically tried to make certain that he would feel as comfortable as possible wearing the dress to school. One necessary footnote here, he didn’t wear the fairy skirt or the sparkling dress, instead he wore a more traditional girls uniform to school. The mom tells us straightforwardly that she,
“Bought three outfits to get us through the week. Three school skirts. Three school tops. A pair of white sandals.”
On the first day of school, the boy was dressed in the skirt. The mom writes,
“We put some barrettes in his very short hair and took the traditional first-day-of-school pictures. They’re all a little blurry because he was too excited to stand still, but it doesn’t matter because that joyful smile is all you see anyway.”
At the latter part of the article there is a significant shift. It’s a shift in time to two years later, the boy having been six is now eight. And at this point in the article, the author also changes the pronoun. Now remember that the introduction to the article began, “When our son turned six,” but the conclusion begins this way:
“Two years later, our daughter still sometimes wears the green dress, for dress-up and to put on plays, as we imagined her doing in the first place. Now that she can be who she is on the inside and on the outside, on weekdays as well as on weekends, at home and everywhere else, the sparkly green dress has once again become just a costume.”
The (further) disappearance of childhood. Innocence denied and lives at risk
At first glance it might appear that these two stories are something of a coincidence appearing at the same time over the same weekend, one from Belgium and one in the New York Times. But upon closer observation, there’s something more significant that unifies them, and that is the redefinition of childhood and the redefinition of childhood in the context of this larger moral revolution, a revolution on the sanctity of human life and a revolution on human sexuality and gender identity. We also come to understand that those issues, though not politically linked, are actually linked in terms of worldview. When you redefine a human being absent the notion of a divine Creator, once you abandon creation and instead treat human beings as accidents, then you begin to elevate human autonomy to the greatest good, a good that is not only to be valued, but ultimately to be worshiped. But once you do that you also begin to redefine the lifespan and to erase the distinction between adults and children.
Back in 1982, Neil Postman, one of the most keen observers of the American scene, wrote about the disappearance of childhood. He said,
“American culture is hostile to the idea of childhood.”
He revised a book after having originated it in 1982 12 years later in 1994. He pointed out that,
“Children,” he said, “are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.”
He makes a very interesting distinction. He says from a biological point of view, it’s inconceivable that any culture will forget that it needs to reproduce itself. But he says it’s quite possible for a culture to exist without a social idea of children. This gets to the level of worldview. When he introduces the book, at least in terms of its 1996 edition, he begins it this way,
“As I write, 12 and 13-year-old girls are among the highest-paid models in America. In advertisements and in all the visual media, they are presented to the public in the guise of knowing and sexually enticing adults, entirely comfortable in the milieu of eroticism. After seeing such displays of soft core pornography,” he writes, “those of us not yet fully conditioned to the new American attitudes towards children, you’re in for the charm and seductive innocence of Lolita.”
That is a literary reference filled with irony. Postman’s argument is that the disappearance of childhood was threatening children in terms of their moral innocence. They’re being treated as sexual objects, even down the ages of 12 and 13 and beyond that, as we now know in some contexts. Back then, and dare we say it the more innocent days of 1982 or 1994, Neil Postman thought that the main threat to children was their sexualization in terms of the larger media, he pointed to television and Hollywood. But now we note, it’s not just sexualization, as horrifying as that is. It is also the denial of a distinction between adults and children when it comes to euthanasia, and we also see the denial of the distinction even between adults and children when it comes to gender identity.
Dr. Paul McHugh, who headed that program at Johns Hopkins University years ago and who has since been so morally clear on terms of the issue of gender identity, points out that the vast majority of children and even adolescents who experience some gender confusion during those years grow out of it. What kind of revolution will be necessary to explain parents, writing in the New York Times in this case, the couple with their family lives in Seattle, Washington, to proudly and very publicly declare their own roles in facilitating and encouraging the gender identity transition of their six-year-old, who becomes in the article, once again, a daughter, having been a son.
The voluntary publishing of this first-person testimony by a mom indicates just how extensively, indeed absolutely pervasively, they have adopted this moral revolution and its mindset, and how pervasively they expect to be applauded by the readers of the “Modern Love” column in the New York Times. How fast is the world around us changing, and how massive is the challenge this represents to Christians? Well, just consider this. As we went into the weekend, we didn’t know about these stories from Belgium and the New York Times. We weren’t thinking about it, but now we can’t stop thinking about them. This is our world seen in just two major headlines from the weekend.