First Things 9 January 2015
The case of Frank Van Den Bleeken—the Belgian murderer and rapist who requested to be euthanized rather than spend life in prison—has provoked its fair share of comment. And rightly so, for the facts of this case are shocking. But far more shocking is the rapidly growing euthanasia culture that made this whole affair possible. The increasing normalization of euthanasia is just one of many social trends that reveals a Europe that is becoming profoundly estranged from its Judeo-Christian heritage. As that happens, European societies are losing the moral and spiritual anchor with which to resist the gradual slide into a complacent nihilism.
When Bleeken’s request to be euthanized was granted, much of the outrage came from those who insisted that he should be forced to serve his full life sentence in prison. There was remarkably less comment on the fact that the authorities were granting a euthanasia request to someone who was not terminally ill—the fifty-two year old is not in any physical ill health. But as it happens, Bleeken’s request will not go ahead for the moment as the doctor who was to carry out the procedure has pulled out on the grounds that “certain legal due diligence” had not been followed.
So Bleeken has been saved from his request on a technicality, not because anyone in authority thought there was anything inherently wrong with what he was asking for. After all, this is just the latest high profile euthanasia case to have come out of Belgium in recent years. Many of these cases have been unspeakably sad. There was the individual who chose to be euthanized following a sex change operation, but who spoke mostly of having been unwanted as a child. And then there were the Vebessem twins who had lived all their lives together, both deaf, but who feared they might also go blind. Following these cases, the Belgian parliament determined that euthanasia is such a universal good that it should be made available for children.
In the case of child euthanasia, Belgian law stipulates that “the patient must be conscious of their decision and understand the meaning of euthanasia.” If not so appallingly tragic, such a provision would be laughable. But in neighboring Holland, sickly infants are now being killed on the grounds that it is distressing for parents to watch them suffering, and the Royal Dutch Medical Association estimates that 650 such newborns are terminated each year.
In those countries that have legalized euthanasia (Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg) the numbers seeking the procedure are spiraling ever upward. In 2013 there were 1,087 cases of euthanasia in Belgium, up 27 percent on the figures for 2012, while 2012 saw a 25 percent increase on the numbers for 2011. A third of those undergoing euthanasia in 2013 were under sixty, and some sixty-seven cases involved euthanasia on mental health grounds, which must surely raise some question about the validity of the term “consent.” In Holland, it has been estimated that 12.3 percent of all deaths are now via euthanasia, with the number of mentally ill patients killed by this method having trebled in the space of a year. In all, it is thought there were around six thousand cases in 2014. Recent incidents included one woman with an eating disorder, and another claiming to be suffering from tinnitus left behind two teenage children.