Grim Reapers

Who Gives Us the Right to Choose Life or Death?

As of early this week, patients with advanced dementia in the Netherlands should be concerned. That country’s highest court has ruled that it is legally permissible to carry out a patient’s earlier request for euthanasia, even if the patient no longer expresses a wish to die.[1]

The ruling this week involves the 2016 killing of a 74-year-old woman who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s four years before her death. At that time, the woman had expressed a wish to die by euthanasia before needing to enter a care facility, but she also expressed that she wanted to make the decision “while still in my senses and when I think the time is right.” She never did indicate a “right time,” but nonetheless, both her doctor and family believed her previous advance directive should stand. The woman was given a sedative in her coffee to make her lose consciousness, but she woke up halfway through the procedure and had to be restrained while the doctor finished. The Dutch court upheld the doctor’s actions, albeit indicating that such procedures should only occur in cases of “unbearable and endless suffering” and with the consent of at least two doctors.

The Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia, in 2002, with the guidelines that it should only be done in cases of “unbearable suffering,” and where it was clear there was no chance the patient would improve. Since that time, reports of euthanasia of patients with dementia have increased every year[2], but doctors have been wary to euthanize patients with advanced dementia, for the obvious reason that no one could know for certain if that’s really what the patients still wanted.

This case comes at an unusual time, one when most of the world is shuttered up to some degree or another to “protect the most vulnerable” from COVID-19. The “most vulnerable” include the ill but mostly indicate the elderly. In the United States, we have done serious harm to our national economy—and to many people’s livelihoods and lives—for this reason. And yet, the global definition of “the most vulnerable” is apparently up for grabs. On the one hand, many wear masks, stay at home, avoid workplaces and places of worship, etc., for the sake of keeping the elderly healthy. On the other hand, a country has just legalized the killing of “the most vulnerable”—people who are elderly and ill, whose brains are quite literally impaired in some way. Why do we care about protecting some of the elderly and demented, but not all? Why are some lives worth preserving, while others can and should be ended? Why, in Michigan, is it almost impossible to garden during COVID-19, but elective abortions are still considered “life-sustaining”?[3]

This is not to say that we shouldn’t be sheltering-in, or taking great measures to protect those most at risk. Only that in the case of COVID-19, the U.S. and many, many other of the nations of the world have taken drastic measures which will affect countless lives—and doubtless cost some lives—to protect people from a disease which has so far killed far fewer people than die from hunger[4] or in car accidents[5] every year. And yet, at the same time, many places still permit abortion on demand, and now also the euthanasia of patients no longer able to consent to their own death.

When man begins to play God, deciding who shall live and who shall die, we are bound to see such glaring and tragic inconsistencies. For in the end, our sinful nature also influences our definitions, and phrases like “the most vulnerable” or “a woman’s right to choose” or “dying with dignity” become meaningless, or rather take on whatever meaning the individual speaker assigns to them. “The wisdom of this world is foolishness before God,” warned the Apostle Paul.

Certainly, this is a fallen world, a world into which sin and thus death have entered. And sometimes we are forced to make life and death decisions, like whether to go to war or not, or when to suspend treatment of someone in a vegetative state. But there is a significant difference between suspending treatment for an ill patient and administering new drugs to make that patient die. There is a huge difference between allowing a child, who the parents know will not survive, to nonetheless enter the world and leave it, to respect that child’s dignity as a person no matter how helpless, and aborting that child because the tiny life is deemed too damaged to be worth protecting.

Let us hope and pray for a return to a world in which mankind recognizes its own limits, withstands suffering rather than seeking to end it by early death, and respects the value of life from conception until its natural end.


[1] BBC, “Euthanasia: Dutch court expands law on dementia cases” (April 21, 2020), available at https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-52367644.

[2] Andrew Bomford and Estelle Doyle, “Wanting to die at ‘five to midnight’ - before dementia takes over,” BBC (January 30, 2019), available at https://www.bbc.com/news/stories-47047579.

[3] Micaiah Bilger, “Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ‘Bans Gardening’ During Lockdown, Lets Abortion Clinics Kill Babies,” LifeNews (April 21, 2020), available at https://www.lifenews.com/2020/04/21/michigan-gov-gretchen-whitmer-bans-gardening-during-lockdown-lets-abortion-clinics-kill-babies/.

[4] “The Facts: What You Need to Know About Global Hunger,” Mercy Corps (October 1, 2018), available at https://www.mercycorps.org/blog/quick-facts-global-hunger.

[5] “Road Safety Facts,” available at https://www.asirt.org/safe-travel/road-safety-facts/, accessed April 22, 2020.

is the managing editor of The Natural Family, the quarterly publication of the International Organization for the Family.

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