The Grim Powers that European Governments Reap

On July 28th, 2017 a British baby named Charlie Gard died. Charlie Gard was born with a rare genetic disorder: infantile onset encephalomyopathic mitochondrial D.N.A. depletion syndrome. The only treatment available for Charlie was experimental and exclusively offered in the United States. Baby Charlie received funding from grassroots efforts worldwide to fly to the United States to receive the treatment, but the U.K. High Court decided that Charlie ought to be “allowed to die peacefully and with dignity.” The Court determined–contrary to the will of the parents–that Charlie was to be taken off treatment; he would not receive the experimental treatment in America because his quality of life would not make life worth living. Charlie Gard’s situation in Britain is representative of the culture of western European countries generally.

Last month, Dr. Ludo Vanopdenbosch blew the whistle on unethical euthanasia practices in Belgium. In Belgium, as in other European countries and six U.S. states, (Washington, Oregon, California, Colorado, Vermont, Montana), state-assisted suicide is legal. But, in Belgium, unlike the six states, the laws do not only apply to those with terminal illnesses. Autism, schizophrenia, dementia, bipolar disorder, depression, voluntary organ donation, and elderly couples who fear widow-hood can justify state-assisted suicide in Belgium. Dr. Vanopdenbosch revealed that there have even been cases where mentally ill individuals–not having consented to the procedure–have been killed. Their own families signed consent forms for them. Belgium has a huge potential scandal, but it is all swept under the rug, fearing that publicization would discourage the practice of euthanasia.

As evidenced by the case of Charlie Gard, and in the several cases in Belgium, many European governments decide what makes life worth living. The lives of those with rare genetic disorders and the mentally ill are legally ended. That’s not euthanasia, that’s eugenics just under a different name. Eugenics is the systematic selection for certain (supposedly superior) traits in the human race; it is social Darwinism. Advocates of such practices wrote that eugenics would “improve or repair the racial qualities of the future generations either physically or mentally.”(Francis Galton) Perhaps surprising to some, American progressive pioneer and U.S. President, Woodrow Wilson, shared this point of view. As governor of New Jersey in  1911, he signed a law that forced “feeble-minded” individuals to undergo eugenic sexual sterilization. Until Hitler’s heinous crimes against humanity, the progressives in America favored such practices. Although the mindset of eugenics virtually disappeared in America after the Progressive Era, the mindset did not entirely leave Europe.

The Icelandic government requires prenatal testing, which potentially reveals Down Syndrome and other medical conditions, while simultaneously encouraging mothers to abort babies with Down Syndrome. As a result, nearly 100% of Icelandic mothers choose to abort a child with Down Syndrome. That’s not euthanasia, and that’s not only eugenics: that’s genocide, just under a different name. Genocide “is simply the deliberate, systematic attempt to erase a category of people.”[1] An article published by C.B.S. used the term “eradicate”–a term usually reserved for curable diseases such as polio or mumps–to describe Iceland’s campaign against Down Syndrome. Genocide is not a “cure” for Down Syndrome.  

The case of Charlie Gard, the cases in Belgium, and the Icelandic campaign against Down Syndrome all point to the fact that European governments often overreach in the lives–and deaths–of their citizens. Modernity radicalized and expanded positive rights to the extreme that not only do individuals have the “right” to take their own life, but the European government claims sovereignty over lives of their citizens. The radical expansion of the interpretation of the “right” to death naturally follows from the cultural acceptance of legal abortion. If the mother has the “right” to take the life of their unborn child, the logic follows: the paternalistic government has the “right” over the lives of their citizens.

All this implies that the State has the power over life…which has serious political and theological implications.

No one has the right to take life, whether another’s or one’s own. John Locke, the philosopher famous for his writings on inalienable rights–life, liberty, and property (or pursuit of happiness, as Jefferson put it)–said that you are not at liberty to take your own life, or the life of anyone else, because you are not your own property. John Locke’s reasoning is that, because all of us are owned by our creator, whether that be God or nature, we do not own ourselves. We are, thus, not at liberty to dispose of property that we do not hold. European governments believe that they have the right to do what men have never had the right to do, that is, power over life and death. What does the assertion of this “right” say about how European governments view their citizens? What does it say about how it views itself?

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