Euthanasia is becoming an increasingly common legal option in the Western
world. The former Dutch administration, led by liberal Mark Rutte until his
recent resignation, expanded access to euthanasia for terminal patients
ages one to twelve years old – with their parents’ consent. While in New
Zealand, 65% of voters voted in favor of euthanasia last October. In
Switzerland, the practice has been around for some time and can cost up to
The legislation of various countries around the world shows us a diverse
cultural cross-section, and the debate becomes even more complicated when
we talk about minors. The Dutch Minister of Health, Hugo de Jonge, a member
of the so-called Christian-based party, the Christian Democratic Appeal,
announced last fall that an agreement had been reached to extend the
euthanasia law to children up to the age of twelve. The basis of this
choice was a study on the suffering of children, according to which “there
is a need for an intentional interruption of life” decided in agreement
“between doctors and parents” to help “a small group of terminally ill
children who suffer hopelessly and unbearably.” The Minister estimates
there are between five to ten cases per year of this sort: it’s a method
applicable to “exceptional and circumscribed cases.”
In the Netherlands, the euthanasia law has been in place since 2002, while
in New Zealand it has been in effect since the October 17, 2020 referendum
with which the citizens also confirmed the Labour Party Prime Minister
Jacinda Ardern. The legislation had already been approved in parliament the
year before, but the government waited for the people’s vote to make the
law effective. Under the new law, an adult of sound mind suffering from an
incurable disease that could cause him or her to die within six months, and
whose suffering is “unbearable,” can request a lethal dose of medication.
The request must be signed by the patient’s physician as well as an
impartial doctor – in addition to a psychiatrist’s consent if there is any
doubt about the person’s ability to make a rational decision. Justice
Minister Andrew Little announced that the law will be effective as of
In Spain about a year ago, the introduction of a euthanasia bill put forth
by the PSOE (Spanish Socialist Party) was approved –– with 210 votes in
favor, 140 against, and 2 abstentions. In a March 2020 TV interview with
Spain’s leading expert in palliative care, anesthesiologist Marcos Gómez
Sancho, who is – among other things – former president of the Sociedad
Española de Cuidados Paliativos (Secpal), stated that out of 25,000
patients treated in his long professional career, only three or four had
expressly requested euthanasia after beginning palliative care.
“When patients come in – says the doctor- plagued by the pain of cancer
such as that of the pancreas, they normally ask to be allowed to die. After
the first morphine shot, they stop asking that. If you start palliative
care, the request doesn’t come up again except in very rare cases: three or
four out of the 25,000 people I have treated in 28 years. The problem in
Spain is that there is too little palliative care. 120,000 patients a year
need it, but only half receive it. There is no investment in palliative
care because it does not draw the spotlight, as transplants do is not as.
It is a scandal that a law is being passed to end the lives of the sick.”
This stance highlights an important reality: people decide they want to die
because they are suffering too much physical and mental pain.
But what if they were not in distress? Demands for euthanasia would
probably drop, or at least that’s what the medium- to long-term data
Is untreatable synonymous with incurable?
In 2019, 6,361 people died by euthanasia in the Netherlands, accounting for
4% of all deaths: 91% were patients considered terminally ill, with the
remaining cases relating to people suffering from serious mental disorders,
such as depression.
In order to identify children who have a “right to die,” certain conditions
must be met: “no prospect of recovery and intolerable suffering” are
generic concepts left to interpretation. In Belgium, law permits child
euthanasia. We refer to two cases of death for children ages nine and
eleven in 2016 and 2017. In Switzerland, assisted suicide is allowed –– a
practice in which doctors accompany the subject until they take a drug that
first puts them into a deep sleep and then, half an hour later and in total
unconsciousness, sends them into cardiac arrest.
Last September, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in its
letter Samaritanus Bonus, dedicated to the “care of persons in the
critical and terminal phases of life,” expressed in no uncertain terms the
immorality of euthanasia. “The Church believes that it must reiterate as a
definitive teaching that euthanasia is a crime against human life because,
with such an act, a man chooses to directly cause the death of another
innocent human being. (…) Euthanasia is an intrinsically evil act,
whatever the occasion or circumstance.”
We refer back to canon law – legislation formulated by the Church. It
equates life itself as an “inalienable value” and the intention to end it –
beyond the motivation that drives the person to consider such a course of
action – is absolutely deplorable and therefore, the person is who resorts
to euthanasia or assisted suicide is denied the funeral rite.
Although there are now several countries attempting to regulate “good
death,” none – or almost none – of them do so as a matter of eugenics.
Eugenics “indicates a set of theories and practices aimed at improving the
genetic quality of a certain population,” which at this masks itself as
totalitarianism. In the recent past, there were the Nazis who mass
sterilized non-Aryan “races” and considered some to be inferior and
bringers of life without value.
Getting back to the initial and key point of the question, which has many
different aspects to it: Can dying be a free choice? How can a person
believe they have a coherent and full perspective of it?
Suffering in itself, especially if it is intense, is an intimate, personal,
and therefore very subjective experience. Quantifying an illness in
theoretical terms is as impossible as trying to explain it in juridical
terms. To “justify” the choice of an individual who wants to throw it away
in such a drastic and compulsory way, is also a risk. How much rationale
does a person have if constantly under the pressure of the suffering that
led him to consider euthanasia? How reasonable must a person or institution
be who allows such a thing to happen?
The moral condemnation posed by the Church in the letter Samaritanus Bonus makes sense: it is condemnable to not strive to
provide sick people with proper care, support, and dignity.
As people, we should perhaps only follow the “proper” or “right” path
because life is sacred and unique, and fighting for it is an undeniable
right. However, we also have a duty to do everything possible to ensure
that man’s right is not altered by outside causes.
As Professor Marcos Gómez Sancho says, let’s first give everyone in the
world the possibility to be treated and move forward with palliative care.
These, accompanied by the love and warmth of doctors, friends, and above
all family, can ensure that a patient is, at the very least, indecisive –
reflective – since they would not be mired in all sorts of pain.
Euthanasia should not be a consequence of medical and social failure; it
should not be the only feasible solution for the sick person because he or
she is led down an endless physical and mental decline. It should not be
“forced” to be considered because palliative solutions don’t seem
As stated before: there is a right to life – to live a life of dignity.