Chills went down my spine as I read a recent article in the New York Times about the Groningen Protocol, a new set of guidelines from the Netherlands that deal with ending the lives of babies whose medical conditions have supposedly sentenced them to a life of unbearable suffering.
What will be next? And who is to decide when suffering becomes unbearable? The authors of the guidelines say they favor "life-ending measures" only under "very strict conditions." But to me, this phrase is nothing but brainwashing. It dulls our consciences and falsely reassures us that the recommended "procedures" are noble and caring. They are nothing of the sort. They are methods of killing, and represent yet another example of our culture's desperate bid for the "good life"--a life undisturbed by discomfort and pain.
Even if children are born with what we consider devastating medical defects, we cannot forget that God never makes mistakes. And if he allows suffering, shouldn't it lead those of us who are healthy to a greater love and compassion? Do we really want a super-race in which everyone is healthy, and in which anyone who has a medical burden or who is in some way deformed or disfigured is eliminated at birth?
What has happened to our consciences? Every fiber of our being ought to cry out against this development, and against the casualness with which such a murderous plot is being promoted as if it were simply well-reasoned professional advice.
It is true that the abortion of babies with grave medical conditions is already common. So is the withdrawal of life-support from babies born without a hope of survival. (The two are, of course, very different.) But as I see it, the new protocol has one aim: to further cement our acceptance of evil, and to lull us to sleep as the train of "progress" roars on toward destruction.
The notion that death is better than disability is seeping into popular culture as well. The film Million Dollar Baby, which presents the euthanasia of a quadriplegic as heroic, recently won four Oscars.
Where are we "Christians" in all this? Why is there so little outcry or alarm? God said to the first humans he created, "Be fruitful and multiply"; yet we so often despise God's gift of life, and restrict, restrain, and smother it. And Jesus once said, "A bruised reed he will not break; a smoldering wick he will not put out." Why, then, are we so eager to screen and select and eliminate?
A few weeks ago I wrote a column about our culture's growing obsession with testing newborns, and noted how we have become virtual slaves to fear. When my wife and I were expecting our first child, in 1967, we waited with joyful anticipation. Many parents today seem to shudder and shrink back. They fear having children!
We have made a god of medical research. Undeniably, scientific advances have improved life for millions, and we think of this as progress. But as modern medicine has moved away from its first task (relieving pain) to preventing suffering, it has succumbed to greedy corporations that have but one aim: to amass as much wealth and power as possible under the guise of curing every possible disorder and dysfunction.
Just because something is legal does not make it right. Euthanasia may be legal in the Netherlands, but it is still wrong. And the Groningen Protocol is not a mark of progress, but evidence of a new crime against humanity. Deep down, everyone who has a conscience must know this with certainty.
Many years ago, Oliver and Marion, a couple in my congregation who were expecting a baby, unexpectedly discovered that their child had anencephaly--that is, he was born without the roof of his skull--and would not live. Marion found this out during her last prenatal visit, just days before the baby was due. Later, she wrote:
"Two days after that visit, our beloved son was born--a beautiful, round, pink, little boy. We named him Michael. He had obvious 'human' defects, and I say 'human,' because I know that in God's eyes he was still perfect. We had been warned before that he might not live at all, or at most, for a few hours. Instead, past all our expectations, he lived for five days. He was fully accepted and welcomed by his brothers and sisters at home, and by all our friends and neighbors. Michael's brief life stopped me in my tracks. It made me ask myself, What gives a life its worth? Its length? Who is to say what is 'worthwhile' or 'normal'? Without a doubt, what Michael brought to the hundreds of people whose lives he touched had far more worth than many of our extended lives will ever have."
Under the new Dutch guidelines, Michael would have been euthanized within minutes of birth, and his parents and siblings--and the community around them--would have been deprived of an experience they say was one of the deepest and most meaningful in their lives.
Never have we as a society talked so much about tolerance; never have we shown so little tolerance to those who do not fit our idea of what is clean or right or beautiful or democratic. We have long had trouble tolerating people of other races and religions, and economic and political systems that are different from ours. Now we are losing our ability to tolerate babies that don't measure up.
It is differences that make our world such a wonderful place; differences that make it such an exciting time to be alive. And yet we seem intent on achieving global uniformity--on slowly and steadily rooting out everyone and everything that does not live up to our standards.
May God have mercy! We are headed down the road of self-destruction, and I shudder to think of the future. On the other hand, there are plenty of reasons for hope--and chief among them is our children.
Children meant everything to Jesus. When his disciples quarreled as to who was the greatest, he put a child in their midst and said, "Unless you become like one of these little ones you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven." And Isaiah, speaking of that same kingdom, said, "The lion and the lamb shall lie down peacefully together, and a little child shall lead them." Why do we resist these wonderful words?
Whenever I am with children, I realize how much we adults have to change in order to become true human beings. Children are the salvation of human civilization.
by Johann Christoph Arnold
[Johann Christoph Arnold is an author and pastor with the Bruderhof Communities.]