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October 24th 2008 print

Bill Muehlenberg

The Death Culture in the West

In the West the culture of death continues to grow.

In the West the culture of death continues to grow. And there is a connection between the culture of death and the death of Christianity. When a nation dies spiritually, it begins to fixate more and more on death. A belief in the fundamental sanctity of life is replaced with a focus on anti-life ideologies and practices.

Consider two recent events which highlight this. Earlier this month Australian euthanasia campaigner Philip Nitschke launched an online euthanasia manual. One press account says this: “Dr Nitschke describes the book as a compilation of the ‘most reliable and peaceful methods’ used to end life. End-of-life options detailed in video and text formats include use of the drug Nembutal obtained from Mexico, and the hypoxic method using a plastic bag.”

Of interest is the fact that even the New South Wales voluntary euthanasia society was concerned about this move. As its president, Dr Giles Yates, said, "I’m very concerned about the lack of safeguards on the publication of suicide techniques. [We have] always taken the view that people need assistance with voluntary euthanasia but that assistance should be covered with comprehensive safeguards against non-rational suicide and coerced suicide. The other risk is that it could be used by people for murder, not to put it too strongly. If someone wants to get hold of granny’s estate, and they encourage granny to use the techniques, they can actually coerce someone to commit suicide for all the wrong reasons."

But things are not much better in the UK. A renowned British medical ethicist, Baroness Mary Warnock, recently argued that dementia patients have a “duty to die”. They are simply obliged to get out of our way, the moral philosopher stated. Charles Colson picks up the story:

“She says elderly people who suffer from dementia are ‘wasting people’s lives’ – that is, the lives of those who care for them – and ought to choose to die even if they’re not suffering. And even if they aren’t a burden on their families, they ought to ‘off’ themselves anyway, as she puts it, because they’re a burden on the public, which, under British national health care, pays for their treatment. According to the Daily Telegraph, Warnock hopes people will soon be ‘licensed to put others down’.”

Yes, put others down, like a dog. Says Colson: “That’s the kind of euphemism we use when talking about injured horses or sick dogs. It’s not how we talk about human beings – or at least, it’s not how we used to talk about them. At age 84, Lady Warnock is old enough to remember Hitler’s Final Solution – and the thinking that drove the slaughter, not only of the Jews, but also of the handicapped, gypsies, and others the Nazis considered ‘defective’ or ‘useless.’ But even though Lady Warnock should remember World War II, she evidently has forgotten its terrible lessons. Given her despicable recommendation for the elderly, she ought to hope that her memory issues aren’t related to dementia.”

Notice how the relief of suffering is not even being talked about here. If anything, it is the relief of suffering of those around the patient. It is for their sakes that we should make use of euthanasia. And this new duty to die will of course always be tied in with economic concerns. As Colson says,

“This tale out of England is also a dire warning about what happens when countries nationalize health care. There’s never enough money to go around – and some bureaucrat at the top is always going to start making choices about who gets to live and who’s going to die. If those targeted for death don’t go willingly, well, they will need to be encouraged to die – or they might get a visit from someone ‘licensed to put others down.’ Has the Western world truly sunk this low? Do we ever need a more vivid reminder of the tremendous importance of worldview?”

Lest people think Colson is going a bit far with the economic factor in the push for euthanasia, recall that here in Australia similar ideas were expressed in a government paper on health care put out by the Economic Planning Advisory Commission in 1994. It actually looked at the issue of euthanasia as one option in the whole discussion of saving money in health care.

But as we abandon the Judeo-Christian worldview, such utilitarian considerations of human life will only continue. Colson concludes: “Either all human life – from unborn children to demented mothers and fathers – is created in the image of God and therefore infinitely precious, or humans are nothing but the result of mere chance, indistinguishable morally from a sand flea. The choice society makes will determine whether the most vulnerable among us will be respected and protected . . . or whether we will ‘put them down’ when they become a burden. We Christians must speak out as others – especially those in authority – move us closer and closer to compulsory killing. If we do nothing, its evidence that perhaps we’ve all lost our marbles.”

We are certainly losing something here. As we allow the secularists to push their worldview in every area of life, the case for life becomes less and less strong, and the case for death becomes more and more attractive. And that puts every one of us at risk.