Euthanasia Booster’s Game of Let’s Play Pretend

by Wesley J. Smith

None are so blind as those who refuse to see.

A bioethicist named Tony Hope supports Belgium’s new child euthanasia law as if we have no history of how loosely doctor-administered death has actually been applied in that morally collapsing country. While claiming the mantle of empirical analysis, Hope actually engages in a game of “let’s play pretend.”

 First, he sets forth his moral principles to justify euthanasia. I disagree, but let’s skip that for now. 

I want to focus here on how the list of Hope’s supposedly “empirical assumptions”​ about the desirability of child euthanasia aren’t really emperical. From, “Morality, Science, and Belgium’s Child Euthanasia Law,” at the Practical Ethics blog

Empirical assumptions

1.There are some situations in which children with a terminal illness suffer so much that it is in their interests to be dead.

2. There are some situations in which the child’s suffering cannot be sufficiently alleviated short of keeping the child permanently unconscious.

3. A law can be formulated with sufficient safeguards to prevent euthanasia from being carried out in situations when it is not justified.

The first assumption isn’t “empirical,” which means, “relying on experience or observation alone often without due regard for system and theory.” What might or might not be in a sick child’s “interests” is not a matter of objective observation. Rather, it is entirely subjective and ideologically premised. Hence, it is not an empirical assumption. 

There may indeed be rare times in which a child’s suffering can only be alleviated by palliative sedation. But that isn’t a matter of conscious or unconscious. Done correctly, the level of awareness can be titrated up and down to the benefit of the patient. Moreover, the implication in the second empirical assumption is that killing is preferable to unconsciousness. But that is a subjective assumption, not an objective observation. 

But the third supposedly empirical assumption is the real howler. Belgium’s law for adults has not prevented euthanasia from being carried out in situations where it is “not justified” under the letter of the law (ignoring that what constitutes ”justified” can often be in the non-emperical eye of the beholder).  

Indeed, the letter of the law has been repeatedly shattered in Belgium, and without legal consequence, including, but certainly not limited to:

- Joint euthanasia killings of elderly couples;

- Joint euthanasia killings of identical twins who were losing their eyesight.

- The euthanasia killing of a transsexual disappointed with her sex change surgery;

- The euthanasia killing of a psychiatric patient in despair because she was sexually predated upon by her psychiatrist. 

That isn’t “slippery slope” argumentation, as Hope would state. It is a verifiable recitation of facts on the ground!  

More to the point, Hope shovels the usual false euthanasia advocacy trope that child euthanasia will be limited to cases in which nothing can be done other than induced coma or euthanasia to alleviate suffering. In fact, the terms of the Belgian child euthanasia law does not limit doctor-administered death to such few cases! Thus, that’s mere selling puffery, the opposite of reaching an objective empirical conclusion.

But more to the point, whatever the law may state about a child having to be terminally ill to be euthanized, there is no “empirical” reason to believe that the guideline for children will be obeyed any more than have adult euthanasia guidelines. Indeed, the very first legal euthanasia in Belgium broke the legal guidelines, and it has gone steadily downhill from there.

The same steady expansion of killable categories will take place with children–an assertion based on empirical observation of what has actually transpired in the country over the last 14 years!

Indeed, how could it not? The Belgian culture–as well as the law–has accepted the poisonous premise that killing is an acceptable answer to human suffering. With that as the true moral foundation, the implacable force of logic will lead Beligum to ever-expanding categories of accepted, if not legal, child “mercy” killings. That’s what’s known as an “empirical assumption” with a compelling evidentiary basis.