Dismaying Dutch disregard for life

Rory Leishman National Affairs

Rory Leishman National Affairs

How could the Netherlands, a country which heroically resisted the Nazi euthanasia program during the Second World War, now embrace one of the most extensive regimes of legalized euthanasia in the Western world?

Most people in the Netherlands would resent such a question: They insist that there is no moral equivalence between the current Dutch model of voluntary euthanasia and the evil Nazi program, which resulted in the involuntary slaughter of tens of thousands of handicapped Germans.

But would the Dutch physicians who refused to participate in the Nazi euthanasia program have agreed with this argument? That is doubtful. In a joint protest letter to Arthur Seyss-Inquart, Hitler’s Reich Commissar for the Netherlands in 1941, they made clear that they regarded their profession “as a calling from God” with duties dictated, not by politicians, but by “eternal supernatural laws.” In particular, the protest letter asserted: “The first and holiest precept for the medical practitioner is respect for life and the physical well being of the patient entrusted to his care.”

Of the 6,621 physicians then licensed to practise medicine in the Netherlands, 4,261 signed this protest letter. When Seyss-Inquart threatened the resisters with crippling fines, 6,200 Dutch physicians voluntarily turned in their medical licenses and continued to practise illegally. Even after Seyss-Inquart had the Nazi police arrest 360 Dutch physicians, the great majority still refused to capitulate. In the end, no Dutch physician perpetrated a single euthanasia death during the entire Nazi occupation.

Note that the anti-Nazi Dutch physicians stoutly upheld the prohibition on the deliberate killing of a human being in both the divine law and the Hippocratic Oath. By these standards, it is evident that these physicians would have refused to euthanize anyone such as a severely handicapped newborn patient — not even with the consent of the child’s parent or guardian as permitted by the current Dutch euthanasia law.

In the 1940s, the great majority of people in the Netherlands, as in Canada, the United States, and other Western countries, were Christians. They upheld the fundamental principles of Judeo-Christian morality.

Today, the majority of people in these same countries are, at best, Christians in name only. For the most part, even their clergy have conformed their thinking to the current pattern of the world rather than continue to speak out boldly in support of that good and perfect and acceptable will of God on even such vital matters as euthanasia, abortion and marriage.

Consider, in this respect, the sad history of the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), an amalgam of three former Christian democratic parties in the Netherlands — one Catholic and two Protestant  — that garnered more than half the vote in every Dutch federal election from 1918 to 1963. The CDA affirms in its current election platform that “every form of human life has a right to protection.” Yet the party has little more to say about abortion than that it “should not be deployed as a late form of contraception.”

With regard to euthanasia, the CDA says it opposes the proposal by the previous Dutch government to amend the euthanasia law to include people who insist they have had “sufficiency of life” (voltooid leven), even if they are not sick. The CDA states: “In our opinion, the existing (euthanasia) law offers sufficient room and contains enough guarantees for a dignified life.”

Having abandoned most of the party’s pro-life heritage, the CDA won only 12.5 per cent of the vote in this year’s Dutch national election.

Two other avowedly Christian parties in the Netherlands — the Christian Union (CU) and the Reformed Political Party (SGP) — are both solidly pro-life. Thus, the CU affirms that it “has always opposed the legalization of abortion” and laments as “heart rending” that the death-dealing procedure now kills more than 30,000 Dutch babies every year. Correspondingly, the CU forthrightly avows: “We do not support the legalization of euthanasia” and “We can never regard euthanasia as a normal medical procedure.”

Under the Dutch system of proportional representation, the CU and SGP together won this year just 5.5 per cent of the votes and only eight of the 150 seats in the Dutch equivalent of the Canadian House of Commons. Today, the overwhelming majority in the Dutch parliament supports virtually unbridled voluntary euthanasia and abortion on demand.

It is difficult to imagine how astonished and profoundly dismayed the pro-life Dutch physicians who heroically defied the Nazis would have been had they been told in 1945 that, within a few decades, a Dutch government backed by a majority of the Dutch medical profession and the Dutch people would display such appalling disregard for the sanctity of human life.

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