The Corner


Where the Euthanasia Argument Leads


A couple of years ago, I wrote this essay for NR on euthanasia in the Netherlands and Belgium. In part, it was an effort to counter those people who roll their eyes and say, “You’re getting all slippery-slope argument on me” on moral matters such as this. Because when it comes to euthanasia, like many other ostensibly empathy-filled arguments, the cause’s supporters are utterly wrong to pretend that no slopes exist and that those that do are dry and eminently scalable.

Events in the Netherlands have once again highlighted the intrinsic trouble with their argument. It has just emerged that earlier this year a 29-year-old woman was legally killed in the country. Like many other countries, the sympathy-laced arguments for euthanasia in that country always begin with an argument on behalf of elderly people suffering from inoperable conditions: terminal cancer, degenerative diseases, and others. Apart from only being 29, Aurelia Brouwers had no physical ailment. She did however suffer from mental illness. It is worth reading her full and awful story here.

But the case reminds us of one of the waves that is waiting to crash all over the euthanasia debate. In most Western societies there has been a great push in recent years to better understand mental illness. This is not before time. But the push is tending in the direction (and in countries such as the U.K., the government has stated this as its aspiration) of reaching a position where mental illness is treated as having a parity with physical illness. So someone who has cancer is no different from someone with depression. There is something to be said for this, and much to be said against it. But the case of Aurelia Brouwers shows where this argument can lead in a society that seeks to recognize the significance of mental illness while simultaneously making euthanasia available.

I don’t know how Aurelia Brouwers’s suffering could have been alleviated or how else she might have been helped. I just sense that future generations will look back with awe and horror at how a society bent on compassion could end up killing a woman before she’d hit 30.

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