The Velvet Kippah
"Choose Life": Beware Belgium's New Euthanasia Law
Americans will be prone, in time, to the same fuzzy thinking. For the moment, some of us are still able to detect such fuzziness. Writing in the same issue of JAMA, Drs. Siegel, Sisti, and Caplan strike at the core of the Belgian legislation. "Adults choose euthanasia for reasons that go beyond pain. For adults, the decision to end their life can be based upon the fear of a loss of control, not wanting to burden others, or the desire not to spend their final days of life fully sedated… Children seem to be asked to choose between unbearable suffering on the one hand and death on the other." Why, they ask, cannot such tragic circumstances be addressed—as they can be in any Western country—through aggressive pain management, rather than helping them die? We might ask the same concerning adults.
Is Europe unique? Some argue that is because it euthanized religious teachings a long while
ago. With the Judaeo-Christian legacy first questioned, then mocked, it is not surprising that it is Europe that leads in undoing the sanctity of human life. The United States, however, cannot be far behind. Longer life spans, spiking medical costs, and shrinking economies leave us all vulnerable to the same pressures to promote practicality before principle.
Too many of us have forgotten how German doctors and scientists killed the physically and mentally handicapped en route to the murder of six million Jews. To kill millions methodically with impunity, the Nazis had to undo the notion of the specialness of homo sapiens—that other goals may be important, but they do not trump the inviolate nature of innocent human life, created as such by G-d Himself.
One of the "Kindertotenlieder," "Songs on the Death of Children" set to music by Gustav Mahler reads: In this weather, in this windy storm/ I would never have sent the children out. / They have been carried off/ I wasn't able to warn them!
In 1905, when this work premiered in Vienna, no one could have seen the trail of tears that would extend over the 20th century. We, however, must stand up for our children and others whose expendability will be articulated in time. We must reject the Belgian model, and reiterate the timeless truth that human life has infinite value. We should not, in the name of compassion, become active dealers of death.
The author acknowledges the able assistance of Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, in preparing this essay.
Yitzchok Adlerstein is an Orthodox rabbi who directs interfaith affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and chairs Jewish Law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. He is hopelessly addicted to the serious study of Torah texts.