Originally published in Faith & Justice magazine, April 2017
One person’s choice affects so many others, as Tom Mortier, a university professor in Belgium discovered. He once supported the country’s liberal euthanasia laws for the reasons that many do: it seemed to him if a person wants to end their life, it would be their choice. But one person’s tragic decision changed all that.
‘My mother had a severe mental problem,’ he told ADF International. ‘She had to cope with depression throughout her life. She was treated for years by psychiatrists, and the contact between us was broken. A year later, she received a lethal injection.’ He pauses. Neither the oncologist who administered the injection, nor the hospital, had informed him or any of his siblings that his mother was even considering euthanasia. ‘And the day after, I was contacted by the hospital, asking me to take care of the practicalities following the euthanasia of my mother.’ His anger and sadness are palpable.
‘You see how terribly this injustice has impacted his family and how terribly he feels betrayed… this is a burden on his family, on his marriage, on his children,’ says Sophia Kuby, Director of European Union Advocacy.
‘Originally, it was positioned as a “compassionate” solution to allow those with terminal conditions to ‘die with dignity’ and alleviate suffering,’ says Anita Silmser, Director of Marketing and Communications for ADF International, ‘but it’s really become an easy solution to deal with the old, the sick, and the weak. When a person has requested euthanasia, if they receive palliative care, which involves alleviating their physical suffering and providing emotional support, they change their mind 90 per cent of the time.’
‘The big problem in our society,’ agrees Mortier, ‘is that apparently we have lost the meaning of taking care of each other.’
When euthanasia, or doctor-assisted death, was first legalized, ‘unbearable suffering’ meant suffering from a physical terminal illness. Promises were made that it would be well regulated, with strict criteria. But today, 15 years later, the demand for euthanasia has increased a hundredfold from when it was first legalized. The next step was legalizing child euthanasia—there is now no age restriction for minors in Belgium. Currently, symptoms of worsening eyesight, hearing, and mobility—what we would consider normal aging—can be considered by law as ‘unbearable suffering’ and qualify patients for euthanasia. Lawmakers have proposed limiting the freedom of conscience and silencing doctors who are opposed to carrying out euthanasia, and most recently, in the Netherlands, a bill has been proposed to allow euthanasia just for being ‘tired of life.’
Euthanasia is quickly becoming the norm and not the exception. ‘You see how it goes further and further,’ says Sophia Kuby. ‘And so that’s why it is important to show that there is no logical stopping point once you go down that road.’
In the shadow of this bleak cultural shift, ADF International launched the Affirming Dignity campaign. The campaign videos use firsthand testimonies to illuminate the reality of Belgium and the Netherlands’ euthanasia laws. The campaign has three objectives: first, to encourage robust debate by warning other countries of the slippery slope that occurs when legislation is passed that allows doctor-assisted suicide or euthanasia. Second, to strengthen the case of palliative care as an alternate solution to doctor-assisted suicide. And third, to encourage countries considering legalizing euthanasia to not make the same mistake as Belgium and the Netherlands.
Tom Mortier also shares his story in the documentary, along with experts on ethics, oncology, nursing, psychotherapy, and pediatric palliative care.
‘It’s really the right moment now, because we are just at the turning point from not having this debate at all in other countries to having it in many countries at once,’ explains Kuby. ‘We saw Canada passing a very liberal euthanasia bill. Even in Latin America, Colombia—in several states in America—it’s being discussed. This push can very, very quickly lead to a change of legislation that consequently leads to a change of culture that you can observe in the Netherlands and Belgium.’
This sobering culture shift in the Netherlands and Belgium inspired the urgency of the campaign. ‘People can no longer separate their human dignity from their abilities,’ explains Silmser. ‘In their mind, their lives are valuable only as long as they’re able to work and function independently. Their human dignity is subjective, dependent on their physical abilities or being a ‘productive’ member of society, not on their inherent worth as a human being. And that’s really tragic.’
As soon as the campaign launched, we received requests for the videos to be translated into many languages, including French, Dutch, Swedish, Spanish, Portuguese, Finnish, and German. Since ADF International has paved the way and offered support, allied organizations have been emboldened to organize their own campaigns and events.
To view the videos and join the campaign efforts, visit AffirmingDignity.org. Share the videos, organize screenings at parishes, churches, or universities, or just bring up the topic to those in your area of influence. Kuby says: ‘We need to say loud and clear that there is no so-called ‘right to die’ under international law and that there is a better solution than euthanasia: palliative care and solidarity with the weak and vulnerable. Once we legalize euthanasia, there is no logical stopping point as to who should be entitled to ask for it.’
ADF International hopes the campaign will continue to grow and spread. ‘We’re only limited by budget, but we have lots of ideas for what else we could do,’ says Kuby. ‘This topic presents a real window of opportunity to influence the debate before the laws pass.’
Click here to learn more about our Affirming Dignity campaign.