Monday, February 17, 2014

Throwaway Children

Despite misgivings, the L.A. Times is in favor of allowing the euthanasia of terminally ill children.  It approves of Belgium’s new law establishing protocols for the practice, and wants a similar regime instituted in California.

At first reading of the decision, the editorialist gasps, but recovers his breath upon realizing that the idea of helping children die only seems incredibly cold and barbaric.

It’s actually dignified for a variety of reasons, you see.  First, it’s humane to stop pain and suffering.  Secondly, “aid in dying” is empowering, as it honors the choice to end life on one’s own terms rather than nature’s.  Third, we’ll have tightly controlled circumstances and legal protections--airtight, I presume--to avoid abuse.  Fourth, logic compels it.  Really.

For, if adults enjoy this right, as the Times argues they should, then so should children.  They cannot be forced to suffer more than adults simply because they’re minors.

In America’s legalistic culture, everything gets forced into the logic of equal protection—or exposure, as the case may be.

That’s one problem with proposals for narrowly targeted reform.   Once the logic of equality takes over, distinctions go by the board.  If this right is a good thing, and terminally ill patients enjoy it, how can we legitimately deprive anybody of it? 

The rationales advanced for a Belgian-style law don’t rest upon the onset of fatality.  They hinge upon the inhumanity of forcing someone to suffer pain despite his expressed will to avoid it; on the general humanity of easing pain and suffering; on the primacy of the autonomous individual’s choices; and on the technical assurances of regulators and procedures.

There is also precedent leading us to expect a general extension of this right to others.  That prospect is already suggested by the Times’ own explanation that its backing of adult euthanasia obliges its support for child euthanasia.  

Recall that Griswold v. Connecticut established a constitutional right for married couples to contracept predicated on the sanctity of the marriage bed.  Three years later, in Eisenstadt v. Baird, the Court ruled that to deprive unmarried people of an equal right to contracept violated the Constitution. 

(The Court did not answer the legally interesting question of whether a single person illicitly sharing a married person’s bed enjoyed the constitutionally-conferred privileges of sanctity prior to Eisenstadt's expansion of them.)

It took merely ten years for the Court to reason that its invalidation of anti-sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas obliged it to strike a lethal blow against laws upholding the millennial understanding of marriage in Hollingsworth v. Perry and U.S. v. Windsor. 

Justice Scalia’s prediction in his Lawrence dissent that that decision would lead to the legal recognition of same-sex marriage was widely pooh-poohed as alarmist hyperbole by the same people now urging tightly controlled legal euthanasia.

I wonder if their liberal compassion prevents them from seeing the camel’s nose in the tent, or if they merely expect it to prevent us from seeing it.

With respect to ending pain and suffering, I suppose that eliminating the subject of pain and suffering is one way of going about it.  

Of course, that also renders the subject incapable of feeling love, joy, happiness, or anything at all.  Isn't there a less obtrusive way, something less like smashing a television in order to mute commercials?

With respect to the primacy of choice, I wonder what provisions will be made for those whose choice is not to assist in killing a child.  

Honoring dignified conscience exceptions doesn’t seem to be a high priority among adherents of this new morality, whereas ensuring that conscience exceptions are restrictive and narrow, if available at all, does.

Once again, recent precedent urges caution, viz., the HHS directive mandating that conscientious objectors nevertheless provide insurance coverage for activities they consider morally repugnant.

You see, HHS believes that nobody should object to its morality, and thus makes no (or little) allowance for what it considers to be erroneous conscience.

Thus, here in the secular land of liberty, government has turned back the clock to embrace the belief that "error has no rights."

Regarding airtight protocols, you'll forgive me for snickering at the notion that any bureaucratic system can prevent abuse, given the fumbled rollout of the Affordable Care Act.  

Recollection of Michael Schiavo’s celebrated crusade to pull the life plug on his trust-fund wife also gives me pause to reflect.  So do the plentiful examples of M.D.s and nurses ending patients’ lives for their own purposes, rather than their patients’.

I am pleasantly surprised that the Times acknowledged children's inability to grasp the full weight and repercussions of their actions.  Maybe there is hope for journalism, after all.

I am disappointed, but not surprised, at its advocacy for an exception to the general disallowance of permitting children to make significant life decisions, in this instance when it concerns the irreversible act of dying. 

Personally, I’m still gasping at what appears to be Belgium’s Saturn-like devouring of its children.  It manifests a throwaway culture that has bypassed exploitation and oppression, and moved directly to discarding the leftovers (Pope Francis).

The editors might want to reflect on why Pope St. John Paul II called this a culture of death.

POSTSCRIPT: I originally ended this entry with Goya's painting of Saturn devouring his son, which to my mind captures the essence of what we're talking about: society's killing of its children.  Because it's so horrible an image, my beloved wife asked me to remove it, which is reason enough for me to do so.  I encourage the strong of stomach, and lovers of great art, to search Google for the painting.  The substituted image above is that of Belgian journalists watching yet another civilizational marker fall by the wayside.

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