Gilbert Meilaender on Infant Euthanasia in Europe

Belgium parliament

Belgian Parliament legalizing euthanasia / Reuters

In February of 2014 the Parliament of Belgium acted to permit euthanasia for children experiencing “chronic and unbearable suffering,” if those children were able to and did request euthanasia (and if parental consent was also given). This represents a somewhat more restrictive practice of pediatric euthanasia than that in the Netherlands, where infants with a “hopeless prognosis” may be euthanized even if the child is too young to request or assent to such action.

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Gilbert Meilaender is Senior Research Professor at Valparaiso University, USA. He served as a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics from 2002-2008, and is a Fellow of the Hastings Center. He is the author, among others, of Bioethics: A Primer for Christians; Should We Live Forever? The Ethical Ambiguities of Aging; and Neither Beast nor God: The Dignity of the Human Person. In this article for Principium, he addresses the problem of infant euthanasia in Europe.


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Why Principium?


Christ Pantocrator, Hagia Sophia 12th c.

In principio erat verbum – In the beginning was the Word.  We are in great difficulty, no less than was Augustine, to explain what has here been quoted from the Gospel. But shall we then be silent for the cause? “Why then is it read, if we are to be silent regarding it? Or why is it heard, if it be not explained? And why is it explained, if it be not understood?” (Tractate on the Gospel of John). We seek to speak a word of truth on matters of public life. Not that the truth is our possession, for “to speak of the matter as it is, who is able?” But beholden to the truth, we intend to speak the truth as we are able. We, therefore, establish a journal named Principium, and set before ourselves the following goals:

First, that Principium be an international forum for Christian discussion on issues of public import. The challenges Christians confront around the world today are largely common (e.g., secularization, encroachment on religious liberty, indifference to the dignity of human life and the family), yet Christians themselves are often separated by nations, divided by differences of language rooted in the pride of Babel. Even so, as John Calvin has said, “the admirable goodness of God is rendered conspicuous, because the nations hold mutual communication among themselves, though in different languages.” Greater still, God endowed his apostles with the gift of tongues; “Whence it has come to pass, that they who before were miserably divided, have coalesced in the unity of faith” (Commentary on Genesis). In this spirit, Principium is to be bilingual, published in English and Hungarian, in service to the unity of faith.

Second, we establish Principium as a journal free and independent. “The Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none” (Luther, Treatise on Christian Liberty). Exercising our Christian freedom, we will not be bound by partial interests, whether those of political power or populist movements. Moreover, we believe that through the exercise of Christian freedom we serve the common good. As John Paul II reminded us in Centesimus annus, “The Christian upholds freedom and serves it, constantly offering to others the truth which he has known.” Together with John Paul II we affirm that “total recognition must be given to the rights of human conscience, which is bound only to truth, both natural and revealed;” and that, “the recognition of these rights represents the primary foundation of every authentically free political order.”

Third, we establish Principium as a journal both ecumenical and orthodox. Mindful that Christ desires his disciples to be one, so that through them the world might know the Father (Jn 17:23), we are committed to open and ecumenical dialogue. “A command is given us in Sacred Scripture to preserve the bond of unity and peace,” Athanasius once wrote; “it is agreeable therefore that we should write and signify to one another whatever is done by each of us individually; so that whether one member suffer or rejoice, we may suffer or rejoice with one another” (Deposition of Arius). Only together, in the unity of faith and with awareness of our common purpose, may Christians hope to meet successfully the challenge our present age poses to authentic forms of life. Since the unity we seek is in truth, we intend to impose no burden on the debate in these pages beyond agreement in necessary things (Acts 15:28). Thus, in the confidence of faith and with hope for the future, but never setting ourselves against the patience of God, we launch Principium.

— The editors


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