October 24th 2015

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Labor proposes expanded role for infrastructure fund

CANBERRA OBSERVED Crossbench unity plugs Coalition water spill

EDITORIAL Deplorable attack on Sir Peter Lawler

LITIGATION Appeal to freedoms will not avail for Archbishop

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Europe generous in face of Middle-Eastern influx

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Europe's refugee crisis was much worse last time

CULTURE WARS The PC left is saving us from ... Tintin and Twain

SCIENCE AND CERTAINTY No safety in numbers as variable as these

EUTHANASIA Belgium, Netherlands in the grip of the small laws

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Marriage redefinition will feed government business

PUBLIC POLICY A wake-up call from land of rocky highs and lows

CINEMA Respectfully intended to make you laugh: The Intern

BOOK REVIEW Clearing the head


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Belgium, Netherlands in the grip of the small laws

by Paul Russell

News Weekly, October 24, 2015

When you break the big laws, you do not get freedom; you do not even get anarchy. You get the small laws.

G.K. Chesterton

Paul Russell

Such are the consequences of breaking down the prohibitions on killing and assisting in suicide.

Western democracies seem more and more these days to have forgotten that the big statute laws such as the prohibitions on homicide are really about the state codifying immutable truths as custodians of genuine, equal and inalienable rights. The principle error with euthanasia in places like the Netherlands and Belgium was the acceptance of the false principle that, in all things, the state is a law unto itself; that it can define and redefine the nature of things by its own will.

There are always consequences. When we change from “do not kill” to “only kill in some circumstances”, we necessarily need to define those circumstances; hence the “small laws”.

These “small laws” lack the precision of the “big laws”. With regard to euthanasia and assisted suicide, these small laws rely on subjective assessment. Whereas the big laws are clear and allow for our courts to assess the circumstances, attendant penalties and the application of mercy, the small laws, such as who might qualify for state-sanctioned death, are really little more than unenforceable guidelines.

The prohibition of homicide – which the law had previously endorsed and enforced – is breached. The small laws that follow are entirely consequential and support Chesterton’s judgement.

Indeed, it can be observed that the necessity of these consequential small laws can be taken as a retrospective proof that the big law was, itself, a guarantee of a freedom or duty that existed prior to the state and that the state should never have messed with in the first place.

Difficult if not impossible to enforce, these new small laws render the big law increasingly impotent in its original principles of protecting citizens from harm.

In the Netherlands, successive court judgements beginning in the 1980s preceded the 2002 legislation, and small laws continue to follow on in one form or another.

In Belgium, the public prosecutor’s role in pursuing homicides is deeply compromised in respect to euthanasia. That office has been largely neutered; the regulatory role having been passed to a commission that assesses reports on each euthanasia death properly notified. In more than a decade, not a single case has been referred for possible prosecution.

The growing list of publicised euthanasia cases suggests that there have been many where further scrutiny should have been made. That some doctors don’t report their cases at all is also well known. Even these flimsy guidelines are being deliberately flouted without comment and without redress.

Having trampled the logical moral boundary against killing, more small laws become inevitable. Again, Belgium springs easily to mind, having extended its 2002 laws in 2013 to include euthanasia for minors and having also expanded the concept of the original law to now include euthanasia for psychiatric reasons.

What began as a response, albeit a dubious one, to the question of suffering at the end of life, has become a right. The state, having created a right, has a duty to provide the means.

At first this duty placed no obligation on anyone except the state; a person could request euthanasia voluntarily and there was no obligation on any doctor to agree. Medical professionals were free to decline on grounds of conscience or on other grounds. That right to refuse or to dissent is now also under serious threat in many places.

Once the euthanasia monster is unshackled from the big laws, it feeds voraciously, gnawing away on the small laws until it gains enough strength and momentum to tackle other big laws.

Conscientious objection is perhaps the last such domino to fall. Though not a big law itself, in terms of formal statutes, it is a hitherto undisturbed “big principle”. If euthanasia is a right, then there is logic in its imposition.

This may come to a head soon in both Belgium and the Netherlands via a legal stoush following the suicide death in Holland of Milou de Moor after her approval for euthanasia was withdrawn. Her parents say that they will sue her GP, who pressed for the euthanasia request to be stopped, and the Belgian hospital that agreed to reverse their earlier decision to proceed.

In Canada, the recourse to conscience has fallen even before the breach of the big law on homicide comes into force. The Quebec Government has made it clear that it will expect the cooperation of all doctors in the coming euthanasia regime, even going so far as to threaten the loss of funding for agencies that refuse to comply.

We break with the “big laws” at our ultimate peril. “Small laws” carry little force and are easily eroded of potency over time. This is one instance where “big” is definitely “better”.

Paul Russell is executive director of HOPE: Preventing Euthanasia & Assisted Suicide (www.NoEuthanasia.org.au), and vice-chairman of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition International.

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