Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Life By Committee

By now, only a sheltered few will not have heard about the "Groningen Protocol" created by a hospital in Holland. The protocol calls for an independent board that will examine cases where terminally ill patients with "no free will" may be euthanized. This frightens me.

Let me explain. I have mixed feelings about euthanasia. I have been acquainted with parents who had children born with terminal complications. In one case, the child had been born prematurely due to multiple problems in utero. The baby, a little girl, was born with a cleft palate, severe spina bifida, and nothing more than a brain stem, really. There was no hope for any length of life, and the doctors argued against life-saving procedures - itself a form of euthanasia. The father was a friend and also my counselor in my priesthood quorum at church. A good man who, with his equally good wife, faced a difficult decision with strength and courage. In the end there really was no question. They agreed not to use any form of life support, and the baby died within a week of her birth. They named her, placed her one photo on their wall of family pictures, and eagerly look forward to the day when they will be reunited with her in eternity.

This was a decision not reached lightly. There were consultations with family, including grandparents, their Bishop, the medical staff of two hospitals, and, of course, each other. They sought guidance through prayer and felt strongly prompted to make the ultimate decision. It was an intensely private process.

How disturbing, then, to hear of a nation that has taken on the role of ecclesiastical leaders, family, and medical experts to decide the fate of those who cannot decide for themselves. Is it possible that they might supplant the natural authority of parents on behalf of those deemed "unworthy" to live? Yes, in this case, it is.

Any time a committee takes up a matter, no matter the degree of significance, their deliberations become a matter of public record and carry with them a certain overriding authority. Whether or not it is intended, the effect will be the same. "We're sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, religious considerations aside, we cannot allow this baby to live in this condition. He will be euthanized within the hour."

Here in the Land of the Free (So Far) we still face the problem of such things as assisted suicide. Again, not a decision to be taken lightly. On the one hand, it might seem more merciful to prematurely end the suffering of a soul who suffers from a terminal illness. On the other hand, our moral compass would seem to point out that suffering is a part of this life that carries with it experience for the sufferer, and lessons of courage and faith to all who are connected with that sufferer.

The question of who decides whether someone lives or dies is not altogether different from the question of whether to create a life merely to save another one. I'm speaking here of embryonic stem cell research and all the ethical and moral questions connected with it. How can we possibly justify supplanting the authority of God in these questions?

The Dutch, as a sovereign people, will not appreciate interference from the outside, any more than we appreciate world opinion regarding our activities in Iraq and elsewhere. But my brother makes the case: It's one thing to declare war against an armed enemy, and another to declare invalid the life of any human merely because they can't speak for themselves.

I pray that we in this country will never allow life to be decided by committee. Except where a criminal's life is demanded in justice for the shedding of innocent blood. We call that kind of committee a jury. A jury of peers.

Note the difference.

UPDATE: Way Off Bass posts his discovery of ancient Dutch scripture fragments. Must read.

Also, aside from Hewitt, why are the lawyers in the 'Sphere not commenting on this? Fear of the moral/ethical implications? Tsk, tsk.

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