"Is there any difference between watching someone drowning without doing anything and pushing them into the lake?”
So asked Dr. Eduard Verhagen of the Netherland's University Medical Centre in Groningen, when interviewed in 2006 by the Times (UK) about the impending new Dutch law which legalized "baby euthanasia," effectively expanding the 2002 legalization of euthanasia (anyone over age 12). Infants could now be put down. You might say that in 2006 the Dutch finally put the "Youth" in "Euth"anasia.
Dr. Verhagen claims to agonize over each of the several times he has killed an infant. Nevertheless, he called the new law "a giant step and we are very happy about it."
Verhagen's absurd question about the drowning person belies the fallacy of the euthanasia mindset, in which people who are suffering are better off dead, and even better than that if someone actually intervenes to hasten their death. But it is instructive to analyze the doctor's wordplay.
In Verhagen's argument the act of pushing someone into a lake is no different than happening upon someone already in trouble in the water and letting them drown, presumably because the victim drowns either way. But, the doctor is misusing the analogy, since the predicament of the victim is that he is drowning at all. How the victim got into the water is not part of the proper argument; in the case of the infant with a disease one could refer to "the pusher" as Fate, Chance or God. So let's discard Verhagen's comparison.
The real question is, when one encounters a drowning man (a\or infant with a terrible, painful disease) what is the response?
In most real life situations, including those Verhagen describes being a part of, doctors will try to help the victim, to cure them or to at least ease the pain. This is compassionate and right. But if that doesn't work, then Verhagen oversteps his moral authority and prescribes the "final solution."
So here's the analogy: Encounter a drowning man (infant with disease), perhaps try to help him with a outstreched hand (medicine, surgery, palliative care), but if you can't haul him out of the water (cure him), then you have a choice: either do nothing while perhaps waiting for another person to help (for instance, a new technology or medicine); or, jump into the lake, swim over to the victim and hold his head under water until he's dead (that would be the analogy to euthanasia). Verhagen chooses the latter course, in which he actively kills the drowning man, but attempts to make it somehow eqivalent to the passive spectator. We know that it is not.
Furthermore, doing nothing (a misnomer really but we'll use it) allows for hope, for a cure, for a miracle. Verhagen's approach, while many times driven by distraught parents and a misguided sense of mercy, simply abandons all hope.
In the utilitarian-socialist world developing around us, choosing to take life becomes something of a bad habit. That is the danger to America, as we launch into our 27th year of federally approved abortion, several states have indeed approved "assisted suicide," and we wrestle mightily to understand stem cell research and to define marriage.
We've come upon that man struggling in the water. Time to decide what to do.