Schirrmacher received his Doctorate in Theology (1985, Netherlands) in
Cultural Anthropology (1989, USA) and in Ethics (1996, USA) as well as
a honorary doctorate (1997, USA). He is Professor of Ethics at several
American seminaries and Rector of Martin Bucer Seminary in Bonn, where
1 Three remarkable Trends
The convergence of the European Right-to-Life Movement has become increasingly essential. Since substantial powers of jurisdiction on these matters have been transferred to the European level, European institutions require an appropriate counterpart. Having originated with civic action, the Right-to-Life Movement still acts primarily on the local level, and should continue to do so. Where else can a woman find counsel and assistance for an unwanted pregnancy or for the emotional consequences of an abortion, just to mention one example? At the same time, the movement must offer European legislators a united front. This forum is the right step in that direction.
The Right-to-Life Movement has always considered itself a human rights movement, for it represents above all the rights of those who cannot represent themselves, originally unborn children, but social and medical developments have advanced, creating new victims: the elderly, the infirm and the disabled, as well as embryos and patients. In this context, I would like to call attention to three trends significant for all Right-to-Life organizations in Europe.
1.1 Right to Life problems merge
The issues facing the Right-to-Life Movement have begun to merge. Genetic technology allows genetic analysis, which is used in prenatal diagnosis to determine which children may be aborted and which may be born. Euthanasia (the practice of killing for reasons of mercy) occurs not only at the end of life, but also at its beginning, when newborns are left to die. The so-called Bioethics Convention implements not only research on embryos, but also genetic research on adults unable to decide for themselves, who can be used only because they don’t understand what is happening to them. At the moment, the respect for human life is particularly threatened at the beginning of human life -- by abortion before birth -- and at its end by euthanasia. The fluid transition between abortion and euthanasia is quite visible when judges show increasing sympathy for parents who kill their living disabled children: the news magazine Focus recently titled an article, “Euthanasia: in the Name of Sympathy: A woman who has killed her disabled child finds mild judges, but little sympathy from the disabled,“1 for the woman was given a six-month sentence on probation -- no penalty at all.
1982, a British study discovered that euthanasia on newborns was already
common practice, although no one admitted it publicly.2
British doctors also consider the extent of the right to abortion to include
the time after birth,3
according to a medical journal of 1987: “The British Medical Association
had now reformed its 17 year old euthanasia policies,4
although it declared active mercy killing illegal, it considered the decision
justified not to prolong life in certain cases, such as a malformed child.“5
1.2 Illegal but justified?
Only a small percentage of a country’s population orients itself towards values different from those of national or international law. Some may apply Christian ethics to their everyday lives or do without cars or electricity out of concerns for the sake of conservation, but the majority of the population orients itself simply towards the laws of the state6, particularly penal law and judicial decisions. In Europe, the state’s influence has particularly increased with the Church’s loss of influence on the younger generation. Few parents try to give their children moral values above and beyond the consensus of their society, either because they themselves have none or because they feel incapable. Why do most Europeans have no problem with pornography, even in its most disgusting forms, but find child pornography detestable and wish to have it punished? Simply because this is the legal situation in most European countries!
In this situation, we experience an increasing schizophrenia, in which actions which infringe against the right to life are considered wrong and illegal, but are still permitted, encouraged and financially supported. Dutch law still regards mercy killing homicide and wrong, but neither registers nor penalizes it; the patient or the doctor are considered to have a right to take things into their own hands!
German law is no different in its attitude towards prenatal homicide, which is legally killing and wrong, but is practically never penalized; society leaves the right to decide up to the mother. The judge Bernward Büchner, chairman of the Juristen-Vereinigung Lebensrecht (Lawyers’ Society on the Right to Life) assumes that this inconsistency will have serious consequences for our system of rule by law and for our legal consciousness.7
The question is, what hollows out the integrity of law more: the open announcement that children and the infirm no longer have a life worth living, or laws which declare the deliberate ending of innocent life to be homicide, but refuse to penalize it, defend the right to such homicide, and even encourage the State to support such slayings financially. The latter is much more dangerous, for it encourages the attitude that even the most serious human crime, the murder of an innocent person, can be ignored. At the end of the day, any form of deliberate homicide might be condemned but not penalized. Judicial decisions in Europe tend to find increasing sympathy for all sorts of killing -- including obvious murder, and to reduce the severity of the penalty until it is completely innocuous. To declare a form of killing illegal, but to permit it, regulate it and encourage it reduces the borders between right and crime to an unrecognizable state.8
population, which orients itself towards penal law and judicial decisions,
thus learns not only that abortion and euthanasia are permissible, but
also that even the most important legal issues depend on inclination, that
there is no real distinction between legality and illegality, between right
and wrong or good and evil. This development is emphasized by the fact
that all our present right to life problems began when courts ceased penalizing
cases of abortion and euthanasia etc. clearly condemned by law,9
thus indicating that even indisputable laws can be ignored.
1.3 Human Rights, the Magic Word
In order to understand why illegal acts increasingly remain unpenalized and are even declared civil rights, we must examine the debate over human rights. The lawyer and human rights expert, John Warwick Montgomery, has noted that nowadays, everything can be packaged and sold as a human rights issue, so that the very idea of human rights loses its potency.10 ‘Pro-Familia’, for example, derives the right to abortion from the right to family planning,11 a clear example of the way the magic word ‘human rights’ can be used to justify the killing of innocent human beings. Josef Punt writes, “From aid for victims of catastrophes to euthanasia and abortion as the right of disposal over one’s body, any supposedly humane act or any individual need can be clothed in the demands of human rights.“12
If cannibalism or human sacrifice had a lobby nowadays, they would probably attempt to exploit the human rights idea. 13 The most central human right to life and liberty, Article 3 of the General Declaration on Human Rights of the UNO, 1948, is being sacrificed to other rights, or supposed rights, which would be better defined as wishes. Consider for example the right to decide on which side of the street one wishes to drive. Should this ‘right’ be declared more important than the right to preserve life?
We desperately need to remember the difference between unalterable human rights and wise but variable regulations, and to concentrate on fundamental human rights.14 It is simply not logical to fight for human rights and to combat torture, debt slavery, child abuse and the rule of law, but to dilute the most fundamental of rights, the right to life to the point that abortion, euthanasia, interference in human genetics and embryonic research become permissible.
Against this background I would like to examine the Bioethics Convention, euthanasia and prenatal killing.
2 Central Examples
2.1 The Bioethics Convention
In 1990, the Council of Europe requested the Directing Committee for Bioethics (Comitée Directeur pour la Bioéthique, CDBI) to draw up a proposal for a Convention on Bioethics.15 The proposal, which was treated as secret, was long kept under wraps until it came to the public’s attention in 1994, when it immediately released a storm of indignation. The “International Initiative of Citizens against Bioethics“ achieved initial success for the Right-to-Life Movement, which prevented the presentation of the Convention with five auxiliary protocols for signing without any public or parliamentary discussion. The proposal published by the Council of Europe in 1994 following the protests was rejected by the Parliamentary Assembly, but the Council apparently had sufficient forces to pass it in spite of massive opposition from its own ranks. Numerous delegated of European and national parliaments protested that they would not have had access to the documents without the aid of citizen’s initiatives, and that a deliberated misinformation policy had been carried out against delegates.16. Furthermore, this policy of desinformation shrouds the unbelievable amalgamation of the committees, organizations and advisors, and the research organizations and beneficiaries of greater liberties in research on the European platform.17
In May and June 1995, the Congress of the Federal Republic of Germany demanded extensive changes which summarized the essential criticism on the Bioethics proposal. The European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly accepted these objections for the most part, since only immaterial alterations were made in the original formulation, the objections still apply to the version signed by most governments:
On June 6, 1996, a further proposal, “The Human Rights Agreement on Biomedicine“, was submitted under German protest without significant alterations.18 On November 19, 1996, it was accepted by the Ministerial Committee of the European Council at the embassy level with the abstention of Germany, Belgium and Poland. On April 4, 1997, 21 of the 40 member states of the Council of Europe signed the proposal. At the moment, 23 countries have signed, but only Slovakia has ratified it.19 (Five states must ratify before the Convention becomes effective.20) Whether Germany will sign or not is still unclear,21 but ratification appears to be out of the question, since all German states must first assent independently, not in the Upper House of Parliament,22 and the Hessian Parliament has already unanimously rejected the Bioethics Convention.23
At any rate, a massive misinformation policy has been employed, in which the translation for the German Federal Ministry of Justice24 sounds better than the binding French and English versions,25 for example. Where the original refers vaguely and legally intangibly to the “representatives“ of persons “unable to consent for themselves“, the German version refers to their “legal representatives“.26 In fact, there is still no official German translation of the Explanatory Report of the European Council on the Bioethics Convention.27
In the “Unterrichtung der Bundesregierung über den Verhandlungsstand des Menschenrechtsübereinkommen zur Biomedizin“28 (“Federal Government Report on the Negotiations concerning the Human Rights Agreement on Biomedicine“), the German government assumes that the newer version has achieved a significant improvement over the 1994 version, but whitewashes the individual points to a great extent,29 and reads it as if it were indeed clearer and better than the former version. Germany agreed to Article 18,30 because it supposedly precludes embryonic research for commercial use, although the article only prohibits the production of embryos for such purposes. The German government still criticizes Article 36,31 under which any state may register its own reservations to any article without exception, and Article 32, Paragraph 4, which includes an unrestricted amendment: “This regulation offers problems which would cause any doubt as to the seriousness and soundness of the rights and principles guaranteed in the agreement.“
The most fundamental problem32 of the Bioethics Convention is its basic concern, the desire to syncretize the human right to life with the demands of scientific research and technical progress. It may sound as if two equally valid legal values were in conflict, but actually the most fundamental human rights (to life and dignity) contradict certain indefinite wishes and aspirations, that is the desire to further scientific progress and, at the same time, to serve mankind. Besides, Man and his personal rights are confronted by an abstract, research -- or, in the context of the German Constitution, (Basic Rights in Articles 1-3 of the Basic Law), the Right of Science, Research and Instruction (Article 5, Paragraph 3. GC), which has no power to annul any other basic rights. In this context, it should be very clear that human dignity has the priority in any legal discussion of rights and values. I know of no official document which declares scientific research a value in itself more important than human life. Our society tends to put its faith in science, but to pour this faith into a legal mold and to cement it judicially must challenge anyone differently minded. Jobst Paul writes: „The bioethical hypothesis that in principle there cannot be a value, especially human dignity, which exceeds the freedom of research leads to the demand that human dignity and the freedom of research be considered as equal rights and have to be brought to an „agreement“. The present priority of human dignity is attributed to an irrational ‘Judeo-Christian’ religiousness. A change of awareness (Bewußtseinswandel) is to be achieved by „educating“ the public awareness in this respect which then would tolerate the individual cases of violation of human dignity on the part of research.“33
According to Paul, the bending of human rights under international research is intended to „ideologically harmonize the European bioethics based on American examples.“34 This is not to indulge in cheap Anti-Americanism, but it cannot be overlooked that the almost limitless freedom and support of research in the U.S. pressures all other countries. „The U.S.-doctrin of Bioethics manipulates the term human dignity ... According to it, ‘man’ is no longer meant to primarily relate to the individual, but to ‘man’ as the representative of the species. According to the paper, research for probable use is to be considered a human right for the human species, e.g. for future generations, and the human right of the individual has to submit to it. When and for which purpose is decided by current research, of course.“35
This trend will keep increasing. Heinz Trompisch writes from an Austrian perspective: „The Bioethics Convention is nothing but a tessera of worldwide trends. I just want to mention the declaration of the UNESCO: After the European Bioethics Convention there is another danger threatening the mentally handicapped person, his human dignity and his human rights: An „International Bioethics Committee“ is preparing a ‘Declaration (which is cynically called) on the human genome and on human rights’ in the framework of UNESCO, a sub-organization of the United Nations. Here also, the preparations were made in secret.“36
In spite of the persuasive title, “Human Rights Agreement on Biomedicine“, the document offers no comprehensive protective regulations for the huge complex of biomedicine, and uses the term ‘Human Rights’ as a sort of magic formula for soothing the suspicious. The statement never defines who has which rights! Extensive areas such as euthanasia, prenatal life, artificial insemination, the brain-death issue, organ transplantation, the sale of organs, data protection, etc., etc., are completely ignored! Thus, the Central Committee of the German Catholics (Zentralkomitee der deutschen Katholiken) does not find any protective regulations for the most basic human right, the right to life in the beginning and end (abortion and euthanasia) in the Convention.37
In the few areas covered, protective regulation is vague and insufficient -- for example, an otherwise prohibited act can be permitted in an “exceptional case“, if there is only a “minimal risk“.38 Science can always find a way around the regulations, it must only find sufficient excuses. „... the paper does not find a consistent terminology“39 especially when it comes to the threat of punishment: „Unfortunately those articles of the Convention that regulate the sanctions in case of a violation of the regulations of the Convention (chapter VIII) are very unspecific and worded imprecisely.“40
Jobst Paul finds harsh words for that, and rightly so: „In the end, over 200 years of human rights history are definitely ended with a single stroke of a pen. This history knows the impetus of the individual human rights alone as a stronghold especially against collective power in all of its documents. Nazism and the holocaust do not seem to have happened, no conclusions, no consequences in solemn human rights documents.“41
Martina Steindor, the “Green“ congresswoman, points to parallels with the ethical restrictions in Article 53b of the European Patent Agreement, which requires all patent grants to adhere to good manners. This expression is so nebulous; and its legal value is so low, that all objections have been rejected,42 even those dealing with gene technology. Peter Liese, a member of the European Parliament (CDU), points to the contrary development which will soon set in: “We still have the right to enforce stricter standards, but in reality the Convention is considered a good basis for the judgment of ethical issues in biomedicine.“43
Not even the protection offered by the Convention can be guaranteed. Each state may retain its own protective regulations, for example, Germany’s Law on the Protection of Embryos from 1.1.1990,44 but looser regulations may also be preserved, such as the British Law “Human Fertilization and Embryology Act“, 1990. Each country may also make reservations in its ratification, and, except for the European Court of Justice, no one can bring legal action on the basis of the law. The Court of Justice can only interfere on the government level and that is only an advisory function. There is no provision for an action by an organization or an individual.45 The official reasoning, that the Court would be overwhelmed by the load, is unconvincing.46 Will the future validity of human rights depend on the capacity of courts or on the finances of European bureaucracy? In the Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung, Rudolf Willeke writes, “A human right or a civil right, for which neither the citizen nor his legal or contracted representative has appeal to any court of law, is not worth the paper it is printed on.“47
The insufficient protection provided by the Bioethics Convention is worthless for yet another reason. The Convention leaves the definition of essential terminology, such as ‘human being’, ‘person’ or ‘every’ up to national law, apparently to make agreement possible, according to the Explanatory Report.48 Need we be surprised that the beginning of human life is left completely undecided? When central terminology is left undefined, the possibility of countless readings results. The reference to ‘professional duties’ and ‘principles of professional ethics’ is another rubber clause. What good is the Agreement, under these conditions? No one can take the thought of any uniform European or international minimum protection seriously.
Besides these fundamental weaknesses in the Convention, there are a number of individual problems:
principle common to the Bioethics Convention and the increased legalization
of abortion and euthanasia seems to me to have been insufficiently considered.
Whereas in cases of abortion or euthanasia, society gives the doctor the
power over life and death, because of his scientific training and experience,
the Bioethics Convention declares the highest authority to be the scientist
and the researcher, who will interfere with human dignity and even take
prenatal lives for the sake of progress.
2.2 Euthanasia - Homicide on demand or at the doctor’s discretion?65
Let us examine the issue of euthanasia. Once killing on demand has softened the ban on active homicide, victims are soon likely to be killed without their consent -- particularly in the case of the elderly, the infirm, the disabled and the mentally disturbed -- a consequence already to be observed in the Netherlands, according to John Keown.66 The increase of violence against patients and the killing of patients by medical personnel in German hospitals67 are serious precursors of such developments. We are well on the way to reinstating the euthanasia policies of the Third Reich,68 which carried out scientist’s (!) dreams. The supporter of active euthanasia Norbert Hoerster makes the fear of the National Socialist euthanasia responsible for Germany’s lag in admitting euthanasia: „I think that it is time that the question of euthanasia is no longer tabooed in our society under the pretext of Nazi euthanasia...“69 Dietrich von Engelhard writes, “Towards the end of the 19th century, Social Darwinism played a primary role, leading to such programmatic works as Adolf Jost’s ‘Das Recht auf Tod’ (Göttingen, 189570), Elisabeth Rupp’s ‘Das Recht auf Tod’ (1913), or Karl Binding’s and Alfred Hoche’s ‘Die Freigabe der Vernichtung lebensunwerten Lebens71’ (Leipzig 1920)“.
The views expounded by Social Darwinism72 were proscribed for half a century, but are now being rediscovered. National Socialism’s euthanasia program was legally based on the extension of doctors’ discretion. Nowadays, doctors permit themselves to be made the motors of illegal killing, due to the extension of their accountability at the beginning of life (abortion) and at its end (euthanasia).73 The philosopher Robert Spaemann warns, “Besides, ending life on demand is only a gateway drug for the ‘de-tabooisation’ of destruction of ‘life not worth living’ -- with or without consent.“74 He refers to the “example of the Netherlands, in which one third of legalized killing -- we are talking about thousands of people -- do not die at their own request but at the discretion of doctors and family members to decide whether life is no longer livable.“75
Few European legislatures have legalized the trend towards allowing euthanasia, even though courts seldom enforce the law, and even though the “Grundsätze zur ärztlichen Sterbebegleitung“ of the Zentralen Ethikkommission bei der Bundesärztekammer76 are so vague that they have been strongly criticized by members of all political parties and lobbies.77 On the other hand, the State Court in Frankfurt recently (July 5, 1998) permitted euthanasia in a complex case, using the construction of the ‘presumed will’ of the patient, who lay in a coma, and who had once vaguely indicated that she did not wish to endure any slow death.78 Here the court has overstepped the boundary to active euthanasia, as well as to mercy killing without the patient’s consent --as is the case in the Netherlands, as we will see. The Right-to-Life Movement itself debates whether this is a case of active79 or passive80 euthanasia. When the modern English, Spanish, French or Italian speaker uses the term ‘euthanasia’ (coined by Francis Bacon in 1605 from Greek ‘eu’ = good + ’thanatos’ = death81), we must not only distinguish between active, passive and indirect euthanasia but also take abetment to suicide into consideration.
“Passive euthanasia is the rejection or the interruption of life-prolonging treatments.“83
“Indirect euthanasia“ is the “acceptance of the possibility that an earlier death may result when conditions of severe pain and suffering are treated with pain relievers.“84
Hans Thomas would prefer to abolish the terms ‘euthanasia’ and ‘assisted death’ and the descriptions associated with them, and to substitute ‘killing’ for active euthanasia and ‘permission to die’ for passive euthanasia.86 Although his suggestion would clarify the actual issue, it is unlikely that it will be accepted.
Passive euthanasia, which merely ceases to interfere in a death process already in progress, usually has little to do with homicide -- although the individual decision will always be difficult; there can be no black or white judgment on the issue,87 as is the case in most ethical questions. The expressions ‘active’ and ‘passive’ must not be understood to mean that the difference lies in the doctor’s participation.88 Murder and manslaughter can occur by omission as is the case when an infant is starved.89 Passive euthanasia suspends the artificial preservation of life processes once recovery and the reversal of the death process have been dismissed as impossible. Not the doctor’s intervention but the disease causes the patient’s death.90 Active euthanasia on the other hand, induces the death process before the natural death process has begun. This is a deliberate killing.
To assist another to die is just as wrong as active euthanasia or suicide, but in contrast to active euthanasia, it is not indictable under German law. Robert Spaemann points out that this legal gap makes Germany unnecessarily attractive to advocates of the individual’s right to decide over the end of his life.91
When active euthanasia is performed at the patient’s demand (which is supposedly always but in reality seldom the case), it is actually abetment to suicide. The problem is that the death wish is: 1. often due to a psychological disturbance; 2. usually temporary and 3. more frequently due to poor social conditions than to pain.
Thomas Fuchs writes concerning the first two points, “A person’s death wish is generally, in 95% of the cases, the expression and the symptom of a psychological illness or an acute conflict situation. Between 80 and 90% of those who have attempted to take their own lives are later glad to be alive. Only about 10% repeat the attempt.“92
Concerning the question whether the wish for suicide should not be binding for the doctor, Gerhard Robbers points out that suspicion of our own will is also legally anchored in other places so that door-to-door sales and consumer credits, for example, are not automatically binding and can easily be revoked later.93 Suicide is not simply the free disposal over one’s own life that is none of anyone’s business, but it has consequences for society. It conveys the impression that life is of low value, it serves as an example, increases pressure on others, e.g. older people, the sick or handicapped, to act the same way and shapes our dealing with life in general.94
For the third point Fuchs then refers to the only available Dutch studies on the issue: “According to Dutch studies, the major motive behind the death wish is not the often cited unendurable pain, but the feeling of the loss of one’s dignity, the fear of dependence, helplessness and deformity. These reflect much more the quality of belongings as the human attitude of the dying person to his environment.“95 Of all countries in the world, as of 1994, only the Netherlands allows active euthanasia under specific circumstances.96 But the US and Australia are also forerunners , as Peter Singer97 and Derek Humphrey,98 vehement public advocates of euthanasia and abetment to suicide, have declared. In Australia’s Northern Territory99 and in the US state Oregon, federal courts have annulled the legalization of euthanasia, but in referenda in several American states, the legalization of euthanasia has been only defeated by a small margin,100 in Washington, for example, by 45-55% and even religious and ecclesiastical groups are divided on the issue.101 Laurence O´Connell writes, “There can be no doubt that active mercy killing on demand will be a legal and moral possibility in the United States by the end of the century.“102
The situation varies considerably in different European states. Due to the influence of the Roman Catholic Church, the debate over euthanasia is almost unknown, but is becoming conspicuous in the nineties.103 A similar state of affairs is to be observed in France without Roman Catholic influence.104 In Sweden, the debate is older, but euthanasia is surprisingly not so widely accepted as would be expected in view of the country’s reputation as forerunner in the dismantling of other ethical issues.105
Since the seventies, a euthanasia movement has established itself in the Netherlands, while during the seventies and the eighties, the courts’ clemency since the Leeuwarden euthanasia case of 1973 has ipso facto revoked the laws,106 a development typical for the development of human rights problems. As a result, in the eighties the courts have almost always acquitted defendants accused of mercy killing. In 1984, the Dutch Medical Chamber presented codes for active euthanasia, although it was still illegal at the time. The courts comply with these codes, which speak of the patient’s free will, his prolonged death wish and unendurable, hopeless suffering, but require only the confirmation by a second doctor as the only protection against abuse. On June 1, 1994, a law was passed which declares euthanasia punishable in principle, but practically prevents an investigation by the state attorney as long as the doctor has observed the Dutch Medical Chamber’ standards. Since these standards do not require that the patient be suffering a terminal illness, all sorts of social and emotional disturbances can be brought into the context of euthanasia, opening the door for all sorts of abuse.
The Remmelink Report, published in 1991, played a key role in the legislation.107 405 doctors were interviewed and 7,000 deaths examined anonymously. In 1995, after the passing of the new law, the study was repeated. The first study officially recorded 2,300 cases of active mercy killing per year, 1.8 percent of all deaths,108 as well as 400 cases of abetment to suicide.109 The most serious result was that in 1,000 of the 2,300 cases, the patient was killed without his consent. The actual number is probably even higher. In 14 cases, the patient had not been consulted even though he was conscious.110 The primary reason given by doctors for the mercy killing was not pain resistant to therapy (30%), but the hopelessness of the treatment (60%), poor quality of life and the inability of the patient’s family to handle the situation (30% -- more than one answer was possible.). Doctors and family members had the power over life and death and no intent to murder could be detected -- assuming that we are willing to speak of murder. Impatient heirs need only persuade the doctor to perform euthanasia, which no state attorney and no court of law will investigate any further.
Independently of each other, John Keown,111 Henk ten Have112 and Jos Welle have shown in detail that the Remmelink Report minimizes the number of euthanasia cases, particularly those performed without the patient’s consent. As the report defines euthanasia as a case of killing on demand within the context of medical treatment, it fails to clarify the evaluation of mercy killings performed without the patient’s consent.113 Besides there is a special category for cases in which medications which shorten or end life were administered in order to kill, although this is the ‘classical’ method. Even using the report’s own numbers, we find not 2,300 cases of euthanasia but at least 10,558,114 probably 26,350, including those cases in which medication was given at least partly in order to shorten life. In that case the number of euthanasia cases is five or ten times higher than reported.
In 1995 the number of cases of active mercy killing rose from 1.8% of all deaths to 2.3%. If we add those cases in which pain killers etc were deliberately administered in a higher dose, we arrive at 4.5%. Then we can add 10.1% of deaths in which life-prolonging treatment was interrupted, usually without the patient’s consent (60%), and over 7% with similar methods. Altogether, 20% of all deaths, according to information given by doctors, because the doctor has decided that the patient should no longer live.115
“Problematic is also the circumstances of mercy killing on demand: in almost half of the cases, less than a week passed between the patient’s expression of the death wish and the killing, in 13% not even a day, not enough time to adequately test the persistence of the death wish as required by the standards of the Medical Chamber ... Besides three quarters of the doctors failed to consult another colleague, which the official standards require, and 72% filled out false death certificates, in order to avoid an investigation ... As a result of the second study, 60% of the cases were not registered in spite of the new regulations ... In 1990 only 2 cases of euthanasia without the patient’s consent were registered, in 1995 only three ...“116
Herbert Csef describes cases cited in the “New England Journal of Medicine“, in which people 41 years old or less, who had been in psychiatric treatment for only three or four months died by euthanasia,117 in order to avoid either further supposedly hopeless treatment or suicide (using murder to prevent suicide, in other words).
The Dutch have thus not won but sacrificed the great liberty to end their lives at will in cases of extreme suffering; the lives of any seriously ill person may be at risk. The medical standards are a farce, since doctors in almost all the cases have apparently overstepped their own rules, failing either to ask the patient,118 to observe his death wish long enough, or to requesting no second opinion or diagnosis by a colleague. In the majority of cases, the doctor has ended life without consulting anyone and without having known the patient for long enough!119 Even moralists unsure of their position on euthanasia, such as Dietrich von Engelhardt, can only say, “To carry out active euthanasia against the will of the patient or at least without any explanation or agreement is immorality and legally murder.“120
Government studies also show that death certificates are no longer worth the paper they are printed on, for deaths carried out without the patient’s consent were registered as natural deaths, except in a single case.121 As reasons, 47% of doctors mentioned the annoyance of a judicial investigation, 43% claimed that death would have occurred anyway and 28% wanted to spare the family harassment.122
“ Dutch doctors’ high-placed lawyers have scorned to deny that the consent of the patient to euthanasia was only included in the standards for tactical reasons: in this way, they hoped to achieve a general acceptance of euthanasia to start with.“123 As a matter of fact, the procedure for euthanasia is a part of their training.124 The whole function of the medical code is apparently to soothe the public and to prettify the whole thing with sham legality.125 No wonder that Dutch doctors demand a general amnesty for mercy killing of all kinds,126 and that the new standards of 1995 have widened their extent to include patients without terminal illnesses, abetment to the suicide of mentally disturbed, the killing of severely deformed newborns and patients with dementia.127 Even the legal process which permits doctors to pass their own laws and courts to acknowledge them is a preposterous situation for a constitutional state. The Dutch government want to keep the theoretical punishment of euthanasia, since at least half of the cases are still not reported, although the report is meanwhile directed to the doctor conducting the post-mortem and not to the prosecution.128
And actually in 1995, a Dutch court acquitted a doctor who, at the parents’ request, had administered curare to a severely brain-damaged child.129 Nowadays, Hitler would have it so much easier in Netherlands than in World War II when they brought so much sacrifice in order to resist him! Bert Gordijn’s criticism of the Dutch situation is mainly directed towards the fact that the discussion of whether euthanasia is to be morally supported „was quietly ended, or rather a positive answer was implied.“130
In other countries, abuse will probably be worse than in the Netherlands, where the family doctors have more influence than in Germany, for example, and have had longer contact with their patients. Besides, 40% of patients, twice as many as in Germany, die in their own homes rather than in hospitals or nursing homes.131 In Germany the danger of anonymous euthanasia is thus much greater. In the US and in poorer countries there is also the danger that economic factors could determine the question, when the family is no longer willing to pay for treatment.
Christians, above all, are faced with the challenge of facing the euthanasia issue and informing the public about it. Unfortunately, the two excellent studies of the Linacre Centre for Health Care Ethics,132 the bioethical center of the Archbishops of England and Wales,133have found no imitators in other European countries.134
What can we learn from the Dutch example? First, that the right to life is indivisible. When society begins to give individuals the power to decide over the right to life, it can not prevent the principle from being applied to ever more circumstances. In warning against the liberalization of abortion laws, Pro-Life advocates in most countries have long predicted that disregarding the sacredness of life before birth would be inevitably followed by further measures and laws that treat human life as if it were worthless.
The human right to life is indivisible. The train has been running in the wrong direction for too long, and the public’s conscience is becoming increasingly dulled in regard to offenses against human life. Either we let the train continue and need not be surprised if we are the next victims whose lives are left to others’ discretion, or we stop it and get into one going into the opposite direction. The Dutch train is farther along than in the rest of Europe, but be not deceived! We are going in the same direction, if somewhat slower.
The Dutch example also teaches us that the advocates of euthanasia use the same tactics as the Pro-Choice movement. At first, they were concerned with only absolute exceptions, a few grave cases of terminally ill patients with unbearable pain, who had expressed a definite wish to die. The supposedly short life expectancy was then extended, new reasons such as loneliness and worries about financial dependency were added, and instead of the express death wish assumed consent, then, if the individual was unable to be consulted, even the lack of the death wish. At the end of the process, euthanasia can even be performed on individuals capable of consent.
of Holland’s citizens now carry a “Declaration of the Wish to Live“ in
but the medical profession doesn’t take them very seriously, they have
no legal significance. And that, although the whole mercy killing debate
began in the Netherlands with the propaganda, that the written wish of
a patient to die in case of serious illness is morally permissible and
2.3 Prenatal homicide
A report published by World-Watch in Washington reveals that every year there are nearly as many abortions as deaths in World War II. During the entire war, some 55 to 60 million people died altogether, but nowadays, 50 million children are murdered in their mother’s womb, as well as some 200,000 women who die as a result. The numbers are not exaggerated, they probably still do not completely cover the number of unreported abortions.136 In Japan and France, half of all children are killed before birth, in Germany and the Netherlands, one fourth.
are all quite familiar with the problem, since prenatal murder is the Right-to
Life’s original concern, which has been extended above all by medical progress.
I would like to address two special aspects.
Prenatal killing as a method of family planning
Even as a verbal excuse, the needs of single mothers have given way to other excuses. One lexicon dryly but accurately divulges the brutal but true reason for the high number of abortions: “Induced or artificial abortion is one of the major methods for birth control ....“137 American surveys show that 93% of all abortions are conducted for the reason of birth control and not because of difficult predicaments.138
This becomes obvious, when we observe that the influential organization “International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF: in the US ‘Planned Parenthood’, in Germany, the founding member of the movement,139 ‘Pro Familia’) maintains at the same time the most abortion advice centers in the world and makes massive efforts to promote the right to abortion. As we have already seen, Pro Familia derives the right to abortion from the right to family planning.140
Out of 1,000 American men who escorted their partner to the abortion clinic (and this probably a special selection), 60% claimed to have used poor birth control methods or none at all, 90% would do anything possible in future to prevent an abortion, but 30% were not at the abortion clinic for the first time, and 26% considered abortion the killing of a human being.141 There are therefore many, who use no birth control even after experiencing a abortion.
Every abortion statistic clearly shows that abortion has become a common birth control method which makes sexual desire more important than the right of a human being to live,142 According the statistics of the Medical Tribune,143 in Germany in 1988,144 8,300 abortions were registered, naturally not the number of all performed. Nearly half of the mothers were married (48%), but 87% of the operations were performed on the pretext of ‘other grave distress’, and that in one of the world’s wealthiest countries!145 Even if we assumed that unwanted pregnancies were unavoidable in extra-marital relations, there is still no reasonable explanation for the fact that half of the children were aborted by married couples who as educated Europeans of the Twentieth Century ought to know how children are made. But abortion has become an acceptable birth control method.
magnitude of the abortion tragedy can only be explained by the magnitude
of modern liberal sexuality. Abortion is supported not only by Pro-Choice
lobbies but also by the sex industry. One of the most significant commentaries
on German penal law says, “An individual and social attitude that no longer
considers children a blessing but considers abortion a means to female
self-fulfillment has blunted many people’s repugnance towards the act.“146
Prenatal Diagnostics have transformed our view of disease
In the mean time, medical progress is increasingly being used as a step towards killing a child in the womb. Prenatal diagnosis is seldom employed in the treatment of health problems before or directly after birth, but to make possible the most awful selection, if the infant is or even might be disabled according to a genetic analysis. Ulrich Eibach writes, “In no other field of medicine is the gap between diagnostic and therapeutic possibilities so wide as in the field of prenatal diagnosis. The result is, that diagnosis is deliberately performed even when there is no therapy available for the ‘object’ of the diagnosis. This is new in medicine, for diagnostic methods are generally only legitimate when they serve the well-being of their ‘object’- The factual consequence of the prenatal diagnosis of disease is almost always abortion, not the treatment of the bearer of a disease, but his destruction.“147
This has far-reaching consequences for medical practice. “Predictive medicine transforms our view of disease. A person is considered ill, not when the disorder has manifested itself as a disturbance in the real functions of the body or the psychological-mental affects, but when he has inherited a genetic tendency towards such disturbances, tendencies which may never express themselves.“148
At this point, we cannot ignore the parallels to the Third Reich and its selective policies149, as Ulrich Eibach points out, “Completely unconvincing is the assertion that our modern attitudes towards prenatal diagnosis, selection, euthanasia etc. have nothing in common with those which laid the intellectual groundwork for the medical crimes in Nazi Germany. The Nazi state put into practice the theories that Social Darwinism and other philosophies of the early twentieth century had justified as rational, even scientific (=evolutionary).“150
we are again prepared to allow the state to dispose over the right of whole
sections of the population to life, the state has lost its most important
right to exist, the responsibility to protect the life of its citizens.
While governments were signing an agreement in Rio de Janeiro to protect
endangered species of plants and animals, the German Parliament passes
a law permitting the destruction of the ‘species’ human being in the womb.
Excursus: the dubious founders of ‘pro familia’
As we have seen, ‘pro familia’,151 the largest family planning organization (6,195 members152), derives the right to abortion from the right to family planning.153 Repeated documentation demonstrates that the organization persuades, even pressures women to abort,154 vehemently opposes financial aid for mothers in need and measures to ease the adoption of children which would otherwise be aborted.155 Abortion at any price? ‘pro familia’ publishes pornographic material, even for children, and encourages children to have sex which adults also enjoy. Rüdiger Lautmann, professor for sociology (sexology) openly solicits pedophiles in his article, “The Desire for the Child“156, and propagates his opinions in ‘pro-familia’s magazine.157 But ‘pro familia’ appears to be a sacred cow. And this organization advises more families and pregnant women in need than all other organizations together?
The links between National Socialist, racist eugenics and abortion reform and the family planning movement can be found in the years prior to 1950,158 with the founder of the ‘International Planned Parenthood Federation“, Margaret Sanger, and, more clearly, with the founder of ‘pro familia’, Hans Ludwig Friedrich Harmsen. These organizations’ silence about their origins is striking, considering the fact that they all too cheerfully accuse their opponents of fascism.
Margaret (Higgins) Sanger (1883-1966) was the “pioneer of the American and international movement for birth control. In 1917/1929, she edited the magazine, “Birth control review“, founded the first clinic for birth control in the US and in 1921, the American League for Birth Control ... In 1927, she organized the first world conference on population in Geneva and became the first president of the International Alliance for Family Planning in 1953.“159 Although she had originally had close ties to National Socialist family planning, she later repudiated them , but still supported abortion as well as birth control. She emphasized not only the supposed rights of women but also the reduction of the surplus population.160 Even abortion advocates speak of the “racist-eugenic heritage of the IPPF initiator, Margaret Sanger“.161 Sanger demanded the limitation of the number of children ...162
In the beginning, Sanger was a Socialist who wanted to get rid of Capitalism. Birth control was considered a means of class struggle.163 Later on she followed the Malthusian thinking164, but her Socialist tendencies were still shining through when she claimed that Capitalists, priests and politicians only suppressed birth control because the higher numbers of children would impoverish the lower social classes.165 The number of people unfit for life166 was to be reduced by means of birth control. By that Sanger usually referred to handicapped and mentally ill people, although she sometimes understood the term ethnically167 and in practice, she work together a lot with many racist thinking eugenicists.168
Hans Ludwig Friedrich Harmsen (1899-1988)1169, co-founder and president of ‘pro-familia’ from 1952 to 1967, was one of the leading eugenicists and adversaries of ‘inferior’ human beings, and at the same time the medical administrator of the Lutheran Inland Mission (nowadays Diakonisches Werk).170
As early as in 1926, he supported to free a people of harmed genotype (‘schädliche Erbmasse’) in his second doctoral thesis.171 Later on, Harmsen held leading offices in social welfare services of the church and in hospitals. In 1931, he spoke out for the „need ... of a eugenic new-orientation of our welfare services.“172 Whether he, together with other founders of ‘pro familia’, was already for the eugenic indication, that means abortion in case of handicaps,173 since the national power (Volkskraft) was not to be wasted on raising the inferior (Minderwertige),174 is disputed.175He more and more explicitly demanded the selection of people with hereditary diseases and thus voted for the National Socialist „Law for the contraception of genetically damaged offspring“ of 1933, - as a representative of the church social welfare services! This law permitted compulsory sterilization (Zwangssterilisation), compulsory abortion and soon the killing of handicapped and mentally ill people.176 As manager (Geschäftsführer) of the ‘Gesamtverband der deutschen Krankenanstalten’ (General Association of the German Hospitals and Clinics), Harmsen was the leading Protestant advocate of this law in a number of publications, for example a church commentary on the law on hereditary health (Erbgesundheitsgesetz).177At the same time he was the person chiefly responsible for the practical application of this law and other National Socialist measures in Protestant hospitals and clinics.178 This has neither harmed his career after 1945, nor did it lead to a statement on the part of the church.179
After the war, Harmsen never denied his support for the eradication of the genetically damaged.180 Heidrun Kaupen-Haas has demonstrated181 that, in the Fifties, Harmsen never condemned the ‘Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuches’ as National Socialist, but continued to defend the same positions he had held prior to 1945. In spite of this, he was made a professor and the director of the Hygienic Institute in Hamburg, where he assembled other renowned race-eugenicists of the pre-1945 period into scientific associations and worked as a appraiser for the German Government.182
familia’ claims to have been unaware of Harmsen’s engagement in the Third
until 1984, when it urged him to give up his honorary presidency.184
This seems very improbable, as the facts had long been well known, the
accusation that ‘pro familia’ had grown out of racist roots just like the
IPPF were old, and ‘pro familia’s’ own commemorative publication on Harmsen’s
had also hinted at the fact. Whereby the Laudatio186
and other articles about Harmsen187
catalogue his writings and his offices in the Third Reich, but offer neither
explanations nor criticism.
3 What next? -- Suggestions for the Right-to-Life Movement
The developments described above present the greatest challenge to the Pro-Life Movement in Europe! Most of those threatened either cannot speak for themselves and/or have no organized lobby. The Pro-Life Movement, as a human rights organization must give them a lobby!
This speech has been scheduled between the three major themes of this forum: abortion, euthanasia and the Bioethics Convention, and the practical issues of -’Pro-Life Cooperation’ in Europe, which are to be discussed today and tomorrow. I would like to take this opportunity to make a few suggestions.
Even though the conditions are somewhat different in the USA, I believe that we can learn from our American counterparts much that we, as the Aktion christliche Gesellschaft e. V. (Campaign Christian Society) have examined in order to win new ideas for Europe. As we have no time at the moment to go into the historical details, I would like to refer you to the report of my representative, Dr. Susanne Lux, which is available here.188
Prologue for my colleagues
Please allow me to say a few personal words on the subject. I would like to call German theologians to the fray. I am often disappointed in the failure of Christian theologians and church leaders to take their role of watchmen seriously; often they stab Pro-Lifers in the back. On the Protestant side, few Ethics professors engage themselves in the Right-to Life movement, or even support its ideas. Even on the Catholic side, there is a deep gap between the engagement of the Church and many of its Ethics professors. The speaker for the professors of morality in Germany, Hans Kramer, advocates to some degree the use of the abortion pill RU 486.191
A glance into the Table of Contents of theological ethical works shows that the majority generally ignore the issue or avoid clear positions on it192 -- I am ashamed to compare the number of medical and legal professors who support the movement with solid articles on the debate.
The declaration made by the two major churches, “Wieviel Wissen tut uns gut? Chancen und Risiken der voraussagenden Medizin“ (How much knowledge does us good? Chances and Risks of Predictive Medicine)193,written primarily by ethics professors194, makes no clear statements against abortion except where it is “illegal“.195 Prenatal diagnosis could prepare the way for eugenics196, but where is the church, anyway? Such tendencies are already brutal reality. The most they have to say about the defense of the unborn is, that it is a value worthy of being protected197, or “When we speak of prenatal human life, we must mention its moral status and its right to protection.“198 As if the German Supreme Court or the Pro-Choice advocates said the opposite.
A Commission of the World Council of Churches published a declaration on gene technics in 1973.199 At prominent places they call for such ‘important’ things like a better education for scientists200, as if one would need the churches for remarks like this. But they say near to nothing about the real ethical problems. Discussing prenatal diagnosis nothing is said against abortion201, even so it is stated that abortion is ‘a difficult decision’. The ‘clearest’ sentence about abortion sounds like this: "We can say that a decision for fetal diagnosis and abortion is a weighty decision, for the fetus, although still dependent, has a potential existence as an independent human being."202
The Central Ethics Commission of the Federal Medical Chamber, for example, voted 22 to 23 in 1989 to permit the elimination of unwanted additional children produced by artificial insemination. A woman wants to become a mother and purchases the privilege with murder. The only opposing vote came not from the theologians (Professors Böckle, Bonn, RC and Rösler, Tübingen, Lutheran), but from the Hamburg Andrologist Professor Schirren!203 Michael Gante considers the 1960 liberal contribution of the Protestant Theology professor Karl Janssen in the journal “ Evangelische Ethik“ (Protestant Ethics) a trail-blazer for the elimination of the old abortion law.204
How different are the words in Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Ethik: “To kill the fruit in the womb is to injure the right to life given the child by God. To even ask whether this is already a human being or not, only confuses the simple fact that this human being has been intentionally robbed of his life. That is nothing other than murder.“205 “That the motives leading to such an act may arise out of deepest human or economic need and despair, that the guilt often lies at society’s door, and that, whereas wealth may be able to conceal foolishness, the poor are most likely to be discovered, all of these factors should determine the counselor’s personal behavior towards the individual, but none alter the fact that this is murder.“206
Karl Barth expressed himself in similarly barbed terms, for he speaks of the “secret mass murder which has recently taken flight and become habit, and that in the so-called civilized world.“207 In 1951, he asked, “...where is the testimony of the Protestant Church in response to this rising tide of disaster?“208 Fifty years later, we can only repeat his cry.