Child euthanasia in the European press

A front page story in the Monday edition of the Brussels’s daily De Morgen on a Belgian Senate committee’s deliberations on whether the country’s laws should be extended to permit the euthanasia of children and dementia patients has created a buzz on pro-life and political websites.

American commentators picked up the story after the Presseurop website ran an English language summary of the story entitled: “Another step towards euthanasia for children”.

Writing in National Review Online Wesley J. Smith captured the outrage common amongst these stories. He observed:

Child euthanasia: It’s all over but the final voting in Belgium as the Parliament agrees across party lines that doctors should be able to euthanize children. From the Presseurop story:

“In the wake of several months of testimony from doctors and experts in medical ethics, a Belgian Senate committee will on June 12 examine the possible extension of the country’s euthanasia law to include children. “On both sides of the linguistic border, liberals and socialists appear to agree on the fact that age should not be regarded as a decisive criteria in the event of a request for euthanasia,”De Morgen. They want doctors to decide on a minor’s capacity for discernment on a case by case basis.”

Treating a child like a sick horse is what passes for “compassion” these days.

I have received several emails from GR readers alerting me to these posts. This is a powerful story — but is it a GetReligion story? I would say no — this is a political story with an ethical question serving as the MacGuffin.

What is a MacGuffin you ask? It is a plot device in fiction and film — the object of passion, desire or motivation for the action, but of little real consequence to the film. Wikipedia notes that Alfred Hitchcock explained the term “MacGuffin” in a 1939 lecture at Columbia University: “[We] have a name in the studio, and we call it the ‘MacGuffin’. It is the mechanical element that usually crops up in any story. In crook stories it is almost always the necklace and in spy stories it is most always the papers”.

Why is euthanasia a MacGuffin in this story? Is it not an ethical question whose coverage would fall under ambit of GR? Perhaps. But in this case what we are seeing from the commentators is reaction to a single story from a left-wing Dutch language newspaper that was summarized by a website for an English-speaking audience. And the title served as a great hook too.

If you move outside of the De Morgen story what you find is the euthanasia argument is part of a the larger story of the dysfunction of the coalition government in Belgium. The Liberals and Socialists want to relax the law to allow under 18s to have the right to kill themselves — they still will not be able to drink, vote or smoke but would be able under law to be adjudged competent as to whether they want to live. The other coalition parties — the Christian Democrats and centrist parties object to the change, arguing this was not part of the manifesto that formed the coalition. The left is soliciting support from the Flemish nationalists and the Greens — currently in opposition — to supplant the center right coalition partners — and they want to do this before the next general election so the issue does not dominate the political debates.

The French language Brussels daily, Le Soir explains that:

(The center-right coalition party) CDH is slamming on the brakes, and (a second cener-right party) CD&V does not appreciate seeing their government allies take off without them, leaving them high and dry. This was the case in 1990 regarding another ethical matter, abortion. There also, the Christian family of parties was isolated since the socialists and liberals could count on the nationalist and ecologist votes. This cobbled-together majority left a bad taste.

“The work undertaken in the senate needs to continue in order to pull together a consensus in the government majority”, confides Benoît Lutgen. The CDH president emphasizes that in addition, this ethical matter does not appear in the general government policy declaration. “Having each party go off with its own partisan shopping list is out of the question. We don’t each vote for whatever strikes our fancy. I am requesting in regard to this text a consensus among party presidents.” And if not? “We have not yet gotten to that point”, adds Lutgen.

Wouter Beke adopted the same position: “No patchwork majority in this ethical matter.” What if, due to lack of consensus, it had to be done? At this point in the discussions in committee, this is the most likely scenario. “It would cause problems within the majority”, admits the MR.

Taken as a whole, the press coverage in Belgium gives a well rounded account of the political and faith issues at play. However, you will not find all points expressed in a single article. Liberal papers do a great job presenting the pro-Euthanasia perspective, while conservative and Catholic papers present to the pro-life arguments and issues. They are fulfilling their responsibilities under the European advocacy model of journalism — where there is no pretense of balance or impartiality. This would be a GetReligion story if an Anglo-American newspaper — committed to the classical liberal school of journalism — wrote the sort of story we find in De Morgen or Le Soir where one perspective is offered or if a particular point of view is privileged.

This is also a cautionary tale about the advocacy press. You can trust what you read, but remember you are not getting the full story.

 

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  • Richard Mounts

    Rev. Conger,

    I agree that as a case study of the pitfalls of advocacy journalism your post is valuable. I just wonder how much commitment to the “classical liberal school of journalism” still exists in Anglo-American newspapers.

    By the way, I’ve always enjoyed the explanation of what a MacGuffin is using the story of the hatbox and lions in the Sahara.

  • Charles Cosimano

    And here I was wondering if I could send them my in-laws’ grandchildren.


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