We make predictions of the future by observing the present. For example, in the U.S. more states will legalize gambling, marijuana, prostitution and euthanasia. (1) In an increasingly humanistic society, these behaviors expand and become freedoms, even rights. The rapidity with which they expand depends largely on who champions their cause.
We can also make predictions of the future by watching more secularized Europe. For example, Belgium, The Netherlands and other more liberal countries are a decade or two ahead of us, but the U.S. is on the same path.
“The Death Treatment” (2) is a story about a healthy sixty-three-year-old woman from Belgium who was recently depressed. She heard a lecture about physician assisted suicide and thought it was right for her. After a series of interviews, she finally secured the requisite approval from three psychiatrists and was put to death. The story follows her son’s incredulity that this was allowed, his public questioning, the backlash against him from other Belgians, and his simple resignation that this is just how things are. He hopes to provide a more meaningful life-script for his children, which seems daunting considering his father, too, committed suicide when he was five.
The assisted suicide rate in Belgium has increased 150% percent over the past five years. It will increase in the U.S. too, but don’t expect those rates to represent every demographic group. Instead, the rates are increasing among the white, well-educated, and financially secure, who are worried about the future, and want to take back some control of their lives. It is not so much the alleviation of pain that drives them but the desire for personal autonomy, to maximize happiness and to avoid pain. In other words, this group is living consistently out of its humanist ideals. These ideals include the disavowal of the personal God. As a result, when they evaluate their life’s worth, their assessments are based on the flimsiest of data and otherwise common disappointments. For some, this will mean a decision to die when they are still in good health.
What do we make of this trend?
- We remind ourselves that a culture that values autonomy can justify any behavior that serves self. Life is very different when lived coram deo.
- We wait. We notice that God restrains human foolishness. Behaviors that stray exceedingly far from how humans were intended to live eventually show their deleterious ways, and the culture begins to sound notes of caution.
- We remember that we live in the best of times and the worst of times. The best of times: Christ is risen, the Spirit is with us, and the church will continue. The worst of times: wars, abuse, neglect, unbelief, and godless attitudes that legitimize once discouraged, even unthinkable, behaviors.
(1) Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont have already decriminalized or authorized physician-assisted suicide.
(2) “The Death Treatment: When should people with non-terminal illness be helped to die?,” The New Yorker, June 22, 2015.