It Can Happen Here

Par Rev. John Vaudry le 16 février 2011

American author Sinclair Lewis, in his chilling 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here, imagines the United States becoming a fascist state. Doremus Jessop, a small town Vermont newspaper editor, tries valiantly to warn his compatriots that what is taking place in Europe in the 1930s could occur on this side of the Atlantic, but is met with disbelief—“It can’t happen here.”

The National Assembly of Quebec’s Select Committee on Dying with Dignity (with the slogan of the pro-euthanasia movement of the last 30 years written into its very title!) has been holding hearings across the province for several months. They have heard a variety of opinions and will soon be faced with the unenviable task of writing their report.

Of course, this matter of the care of the sick, the suffering and the terminally ill is extremely important. Protestant theologian Karl Barth wrote, “No community, whether family, village or state, is really strong if it will not carry its weak and even its weakest members…a community which regards its weak members as a hindrance, and even proceeds to their extermination is on the verge of collapse.”

Many people feel that mercy-killing (euthanasia) and assisted suicide should be legalized. But are these the best options we can come up with? And do we really want to turn our physicians, with a tradition—going back at least to the Hippocratic Oath—of being healers, into killers?

We are always assured by the proponents of doctor-assisted suicide and euthanasia that such practices would be strictly voluntary. It would always be a matter of the sick person choosing freely to have his or her life ended.

No doubt, safeguards would be written into the law to prevent any abuses.

As someone who met with the Select Committee, I was struck by the astonishing naiveté of the several of the members who seem to think that voluntaryeuthanasia could not possibly become involuntary in time. It is well documented that the Netherlands, for example, began by permitting doctors to kill only those patients who wished to die, but eventually came to adopt a lax attitude toward the legal safeguards surrounding the practice. Dr Antoine Boivin, who has studied the Dutch situation first-hand, wrote in La Presse in October, 2010 that, “In 2005, in the Netherlands, doctors intentionally brought about the deaths of over 1,000 people without their explicit request or without reporting their actions to the authorities.”

It appears impossible to deny that there was a slope (slippery or otherwise) in Holland, and it is difficult to see why we in Quebec would be any different from the Dutch. Is it obvious that we are morally and ethically superior to others? Is human nature here and now somehow radically unlike human nature in other countries and other times?

Recently, I watched a classic foreign film (subtitles and all) that very sympathetically tells the story of a woman with an incurable debilitating illness who asks her physician husband to kill her by means of a lethal drug dose. He agrees to her request and she dies to soft piano music being played in the next room. It is a powerful presentation of the case for voluntary euthanasia, and it has been used by some in our day to promote the cause of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

However, just as you are about to be seduced by the film’s message, you remember that this movie—Ich Klage An (I Accuse)—was produced in Germany in 1941 as Nazi propaganda. The Nazis had already been practicing euthanasia for the mentally and physically handicapped. Dr Leo Alexander, a psychiatrist who worked with the Office of the Chief of Counsel for War Crimes at Nuremburg, stated in “Medical Science Under Dictatorship” (New England Journal of Medecine, July 1949) that according to the records, some 275,000 “socially unfit” people were put to death in “killing centers” under the Nazis.

As ghastly as this was, Alexander observed, it was only the thin end of the wedge. “The methods used and personnel trained in the killing centers for the chronically sick became the nucleus of the much larger centers in the East, where the plan was to kill all Jews and Poles and to cut down the Russian population by 30,000,000.”

Present-day Holland’s practice of euthanasia is, of course, quite different from that of Nazi Germany, but both are examples of societies moving away from respect for the inviolability of the person, and arriving at the point where involuntary euthanasia is tolerated. It can’t happen here? God help us if we don’t awaken from our complacent slumbers.


Veuillez vous connecter pour poster des commentaires.

Editorial Staff

Beryl P. Wajsman

Redacteur en chef et Editeur

Alan Hustak

Senior Editor

Daniel Laprès


Robert J. Galbraith


Roy Piberberg

Editorial Artwork

Mike Medeiros

Copy and Translation

Val Prudnikov

IT Director and Web Design

Editorial Contributors
La Patrie