Director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition International.
Spokesperson - Not Dead Yet UK Campaign.
(Link to a PDF of the article)
Since Belgium’s law was introduced in 2002, Distelmans is reportedly responsible for the euthanasia deaths of hundreds of people - a physician who kills people. He is constantly in their media proffering his ‘morally superior’ leadership. He is also co-chairman of the Belgian government's Euthanasia Commission, which has never found even one of the cases presented to them worth investigating. He sees no conflict in regulating himself. Morally superior indeed. Now, as the psychiatrist’s mulling shows, terminal illness is long-past being a restrictive criterion for euthanasia in Belgium. They say they are acting out of ‘unconditional love’.
Although we have no special sense of his worry from the Der Spiegel article, the prospect of visiting Auschwitz apparently makes Distelmans feel uneasy. Maybe it has to do with the fact that a concentration camp survivor who was to accompany the group has called off her trip at the very last minute because she has ‘come down with a cold’. Perhaps the cold is real.
...I suppose there might be a man who ‘passes brilliantly’ every part of the medical course, and of whom you’d [still] feel that he never ought to be... [in] medical practice…he may make some remarkable diagnoses and cures. And yet…[while] you do not mean that he will never be properly qualified [it is] almost as though his practice in medicine was bound to corrupt him in some way; by which I do not mean he will break down or fail or suffer a decline in his powers. If he develops a sort of cynicism in medicine; or he regards it chiefly as a field in which to show prowess – this would be worse than any failing in brilliance.The cynicism Rush Rhees speaks of, including the ‘evil of thinking oneself to be God’s agent’ (not in a necessarily religious way), is a deep corruption: of course many practitioners do not want to be involved in making end-of-life decisions for many reasons, religious and moral amongst them, or from the sheer ‘primitive horror of taking another person’s life’.
So it is not what they commonly do that qualifies doctors in any special way to make moral judgements about end-of-life situations. What they commonly do may, in fact, disqualify them, may in fact prove them to be the worst of people to act as judges, if they have become inured to deep consideration of each individual human death, seeing life as a bus to jump off when we please, or when the going really gets too tough.
If that last, most desperate situation can be understood in some ways that does not make their position and responses any the less shallow; a medicalised approach to death is yet emotionally void. Some doctors are cynical, some are self-absorbed, or have fallen into the trap of their god-complex.
Is it really necessary to visit the site of the worst excesses of cruelty and murder to learn something about the depths to which human beings will fall? How is that supposed to actually inform anyone’s deeper views about euthanasia?
The world is beginning, rightly, to question Distelmans’ purpose. As the journalist poses the question: is a physician who practices euthanasia ‘allowed to gaze into the abyss to assure himself of the moral fortitude of his actions... Is that cynical? Absurd?’ Is that what he is doing? His moral fortitude? What could possibly set his moral position above anyone else’s? Being a doctor is simply not enough and may be exactly the opposite, what rules him out of making such moral decisions, because he has become so inured to death, treating it so clinically.
Distelmans’ moral fortitude is my moral disgust, where any possible majesty in human passing from life is buried with his victims, reduced to a sterile, passionless injection of lethal substances – by a doctor convinced of his own moral rectitude – where have we heard this twisted moralizing before? O yes, was it not in this very place, Auschwitz, where doctors played such a huge role not just in practice but in developing the ideology which brought about the very conditions for Menegele , and his type, to practice and to pretend this was medical science, not the worst degradation and unthinkable torture? Pretend, until the last moment when they destroyed all records there and in Berlin, knowing the reality of what they had done.