briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, June 6, 2019

It’s Thursday, June 6th, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

A Godlessness that Leads from Despair to Death: Devaluing Life at Both Its Beginning and End

One of the sad lessons of history is that you can’t have the denial and subversion of human dignity and the sanctity of human life at one end of the human life span without inevitably seeing the same denial at the other end of the human life span.

So, even as at the beginning of the human life span we have seen abortion indicate, horrifyingly so, the denial of human dignity and the sanctity of human life, we also see the very same erosion of human dignity when it comes to euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. A society that will kill in the womb will eventually kill in the nursing home bed. That is simply a unified logic. If that doesn’t take place, it’s only for a matter of time until the society works out that logic and the culture of death wins at both the beginning and the end of the life span.

Looking at the issues of euthanasia and assisted suicide, right now, the countries that are pointing to the future in a Godless age are the Netherlands and Belgium and Luxembourg, but the Netherlands perhaps most of all. A movement for euthanasia began in the Netherlands decades ago, but it has particularly gained strength originally with legislation that allowed for physician assisted suicide, but only in the case of someone who was relatively aged and facing intractable suffering from a terminal disease.

But then the grounds, of course, became broader. The policy became wider. It was not only a terminal disease, but a disease that brought about intractable suffering. And over time, that intractable suffering definition was expanded from physical pain to physic or emotion pain as well. And originally, of course the legislators promised the people that euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide would be limited to those who were adults. That was beyond question, until it wasn’t beyond question. And legislation and policies were expanded until right now, children as young as twelve in the Netherlands can request and receive physician-assisted suicide.

But there’s another spreading logic we have to note. We use two different terms: euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. We don’t do so because there is in all cases a basic moral distinction, but because that’s the vocabulary that is now used. Physician-assisted suicide has become a much more palatable term to many people than the term euthanasia. Euthanasia as a word has Greek roots, pointing to the idea of a good death. But what it really points to is an extreme definition of human autonomy in which we will now claim the autonomy to determine under which circumstances we are determined to die.

And when we will decide that life is no longer worth living, but we would rather embrace death. But euthanasia is also broken down between voluntary and involuntary euthanasia. Voluntary euthanasia is what is now classically defined as someone saying, “I want to die. I want you to help me to die.” The very fact that the word “euthanasia” is used means there’s some kind of intervention by someone. But then you also have the reality of involuntary euthanasia. And this comes down to the fact that a society that embraces euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide is following a logic that says, “At a certain point, this person’s life is no longer worth living.”

And the logic is easy to extend. “If they are no longer able, if they’re incapable of making that determination for themselves, then we will make the determination for them.” But it’s also very important for us to recognize that economic issues also come into the picture. When people look at the expense of medical care, under certain situations, for certain conditions, over certain amounts of time, for people at certain ages, and they say, “It is no longer really serving a societal benefit to keep this person alive. In order to save money or to allocate precious medical resources, we will simply decide this person’s time is up.”

But there’s another crucial distinction, or least it’s crucial in theory, and that is between active euthanasia and passive euthanasia. Active euthanasia means that someone, in most cases a medical authority, is intervening directly in order to bring about an individual’s death. Active euthanasia means administering a drug or bringing about some kind of medical procedure or offering medical supervision as someone’s orchestrated death—their death by some means of intentional interaction takes place. Passive euthanasia means that a person is basically allowed to die. There’s no kind of medical intervention, rather it is the withdrawal of care.

But all this comes very much to mind with controversy from the Netherlands over the last couple of days, controversy that is so complex that even the mainstream media are not sure how to report the story. One dimension of the story is that the mainstream media largely avoided the story. They didn’t want to talk about the story until there was so much cultural conversation they had to address it. Two days ago, on Tuesday, the New York Post ran a headline, “Netherlands Teen Raped As Child Is Legally Euthanized Due To Unbearable Pain.” The Daily Beast ran an article with the headline, “17-Year-Old Girl Who Sought Euthanasia Dies In The Netherlands.” Euro-News, also on Tuesday, ran a headline story, “Noa Pothoven, Raped Girl, Aged 17, Dies By Legal Euthanasia In The Netherlands.”

And so the story, as it was reported Tuesday, was of a 17-year-old girl who had, as a younger girl, been raped. She had decided that her life was no longer worth living, that she was enduring horrifying psychic pain. She declared that she wanted to end her life and she sought access to physician assisted suicide by means of the law in the Netherlands and Dutch medical authorities. The headline, as of Tuesday, is that the 17-year-old girl had died by legal euthanasia in the Netherlands.

Before even going further, we have to recognize that the law in the Netherlands would allow for a 17-year-old girl to seek and obtain euthanasia or physician assisted suicide. Indeed, as we have seen, children as young as twelve can make such a request. Although, children between the ages of twelve and sixteen must have parents involved in the process. That’s a dark enough picture taken by itself.

But the story, as it was reported on Tuesday, tells us that this young woman, Noa Pothoven, had made the request earlier, but her parents had not cooperated. So when she turned 17, she made the request on her own and the headline that came on Tuesday said that she had died by means of legal euthanasia in the Netherlands.

But then on Tuesday night, the story turned. European media began to report that the young woman, Noa Pothoven, had indeed sought legal euthanasia but she had not received it, and she instead had brought about her own death in a hospital setting by refusing food and water. So as of Tuesday night, the fact that the young woman had died was uncontested. The fact that she had died after suffering deep psychic trauma was also uncontested. It seemed very evident that the young woman had sought legal euthanasia in the Netherlands, but it was unclear whether or not her death was related to that policy at all.

But then on Wednesday, there were other turns to the story. And on Wednesday, it turned out that the young woman had been in a hospital and that she had even in the last days of her life, offered a posting indicating in social media that she would be dying within 10 days. In her last post on Instagram, we are told that she had written that she had stopped eating and drinking because her suffering was unbearable. “I breathe but no longer live,” she said. The report Tuesday in the New York Post, said that, “At age 17, children no longer need parental consent to apply to kill themselves. Pothoven turned 17 in December.”

The paper reminds us that the Netherlands legalized euthanasia in 2001, the very year that Noa Pothoven was born. The next paragraph, “There are no reports of her parents legally challenging her choice at age 17. Although, a year earlier, they refused to give her permission because they thought she should complete trauma treatment, and that her brain should be fully grown before a definitive decision.” By the way, there’s very sound medicine behind this. The adolescent brain is still developing. It simply makes sense that her parents had at least made the protest that her brain should be allowed to develop until she would make another decision, which according to the Netherlands law, she would be able to make as a full adult.

On Wednesday, the website, The Daily Beast, ran an editor’s note appended to their news article. “This article has been updated to remove the suggestion that Noa Pothoven died as a result of euthanasia efforts. Noa Pothoven did not die of euthanasia. To stop her suffering, she has stopped eating and drinking.” That according to a statement provided by Pothoven’s friends that had been given to the Daily Beast by the clinic there known as The End of Life Clinic.

So if the story had ended the way it appeared on Wednesday morning, it would’ve been a very tragic story about a 17-year-old girl who had been twice sexually assaulted, even raped as a young child, and was bearing what she described as, “Unbearable pain, psychic pain,” and that she had brought about the end of her life, even as she had done so by refusing food and hydration.

But then the story, later on Wednesday, became even more complicated. And in this case, we have to turn to a report from the Washington Post. What makes this story very interesting is that, at this point, a paper with the credibility of the Washington Post decided it had to cover the story. A subtle change in the reporting is reflected in the headline that ran yesterday at the Washington Post. “An Anguished Dutch Teenager Who Was Raped As A Child, Dies After Euthanasia Request.” Isaac Stanley-Becker was the reporter, “A Dutch teenager who suffered from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and anorexia after being raped as a child, was allowed to die at her home, her sister confirmed on Sunday.”

The story continues in the Washington Post, “In what she termed a sad last post on Instagram, Noa Pothoven, 17, wrote Saturday that she would be dead within 10 days. But it had been so long she added, since she had really been alive.”

The crucial turn in this story is clear in this paragraph from the Post. “It was unclear whether her death had come with the involvement of doctors, whose assistance she had at one point requested. A spokeswoman for a member of the Dutch Parliament, who had recently visited her, told Dutch News that she understood the death to be the result of the girl’s refusal to eat.” The important issue is this: the Washington Post very clearly is not at all certain whether or not or the extent to which medical authorities were involved in the young girl’s death.

According to the Post, “The End of Life Clinic in the Hague, where Noa had sought services, spells out the narrow circumstances under which doctors may provide assisted dying, requiring that the patient makes a clear and autonomous request and is enduring unbearable and unendurable suffering.”

Well we now know that the grounds that have been expanded in the Netherlands for determining this unbearable pain includes psychic and emotional pain. It even includes what is considered to be irreversible depression. We are now looking very clearly in the face, at a society that says, “If you are depressed enough, we will agree with you that you have the autonomous right to bring about your death.” The very thing that a civilized society had set itself to avoid and obligated its medical authorities not to participate in, is exactly what is now taking place in the Netherlands and in Belgium and in Luxembourg. But we also have physician-assisted suicide now legal in seven American states and in the District of Columbia. Right across our Northern border in Canada, the culture of death on the issue of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide is moving along with remarkable and lamentable speed.

We are seeing an entire civilization reorder its basic morality, embracing the culture of death and also embracing this radical idea of personal autonomy that says, “We get to decide whether or not and under which circumstances we will die.” And now we have people going into Western courts with so-called wrongful birth suits arguing that they had an autonomous right never to be born.

Once again, if you begin to confuse or subvert these issues at one end of the life span, inevitably the same logic turns to the other end. The fact is that right now, we do not know the extent to which medical authorities in the Netherlands were actively involved in the case of Noa Pothoven. But we do know that a newspaper with the credibility of the Washington Post actually put in its report, that it is unsure of that extent. It simply doesn’t know, and Dutch authorities do not seem to be in any hurry to clarify exactly what happened in this young woman’s death.

But Christian’s looking at this story seeing so much brokenness, also have to understand that a part of what we are looking at here, is a very, very deep Godless despair. Godless in this sense, making very clear that a secular worldview—and the Netherlands has become one of the most secular societies on earth—that when God is removed from the equation, hope is also removed from reality. But we also see in this rush to embrace and to expand euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, what happens when Godlessness is so tragically transformed quickly from despair into death.

Part II

Maine Legalizes Physician-Assisted Suicide: The Radical Claim of Individual Autonomy and its Ultimate End

But next, as we’re speaking about this issue, the Associated Press ran a story in recent days telling us that the legislature in the United States state of Maine has voted to legalize assisted suicide “with reporters declaring it in line with the state’s tradition of individualism and opponents insisting the practice temps fate.”

Let’s just look at that lead from the Associated Press. We are told that supporters of physician assisted suicide said that it is “in line with Maine’s historic tradition of individualism.” There’s that claim of absolute autonomy coming back again packaged as a state’s long tradition. Though it’s very important to recognize that a state like Maine had been steadfastly against the practice of physician-assisted suicide or euthanasia for decades. Going all the way back to its founding.

We’re talking here about a shift in the society, in which autonomy is now being redefined, as is the word “individualism.” The legislature in Maine is dominated by democrats. The measure passed in the Senate on a vote of 19 to 16. But in the House, it passed by only a margin of one. A vote of 73 to 72. The AP story says, “The legislation defines terminal disease as “an incurable and irreversible disease that has been medically confirmed and will within reasonable medical judgment produce death within six months.”

Sadly, we have seen this very language fail over and over again. It is basically a form of legislative and moral dishonesty. We have seen, like elastic, this definition expanded and expanded until eventually the same authorities come back and say, “You know, we really need to officially expand the grounds for legal physician-assisted suicide. It will not just be for this, it will also be for that. Not just for those, but also for these others. Not just for adults, but also for minors. Not just for physical suffering, but also for psychic suffering. Not just for terminal diseases, but for diseases that have been long and are enduring.”

One thing to note is that the culture of death always says, “Here’s all we want. We will draw this very clear line.” But the culture of death never stays behind that line, it always presses on because its logic does, and where the logic is allowed to go, the law will quickly follow.

Part III

The 75th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion: A Debt We Owe, Lest We Forget

But finally, we recognize that today marks the 75th anniversary of one of the most important events in the 20th Century. Arguably, it’s an even more important historical anniversary. Historian Alex Kershaw referred to June 6th, 1944, as the most important day in human history. Christians know that that is not so. But the fact that a major historian from the 21st century, looking back to 1944, would say that that was the most important day in human history that should certainly draw our attention to what happened on that day, now so famous as D-Day.

D-Day was the day of the Allied invasion of the European continent, in particularly, the invasion of France. It was well known that eventually if the Allies were to win World War II, they would have to land on the European Continent in the North, across the English Channel. There had already been major battles between the Allied and Axis forces in North Africa, and then in Southern Europe.

But eventually, if Germany was going to be defeated, the Axis powers would have to be defeated by invasion. Invasion in the air, invasion by the sea, and invasion on the land. But over the previous years of war, Nazi Germany had gained supremacy and territorial control over almost all of Western Europe, and that of course, included France, and the English Channel is all that separated England from Nazi-occupied France. Eventually, France would have to be invaded if Germany was going to be defeated, and it was going to come at a horrifying cost.

Adolph Hitler and the Nazi High Command, they were absolutely convinced that the invasion would come. They did not know exactly when and they did not know exactly where. But Adolph Hitler and the other Nazi leaders were rather convinced that the Allied invasion would come at the Pas-de-Calais, focused on the French city of Calais. That is the point at which the channel crossing is the narrowest and the crossing would be the easiest, but the Allies chose a very different location, choosing a far more difficult location for the invasion of France. It is rightly known as the Normandy invasion because the Allied forces crossed the channel and went into France on five specific beaches on the Coast of Normandy where the Nazis did not suspect they would come, certainly that they would come in such force.

Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich had fortified the Pas-de-Calais and that region, expecting that that is where the invasion would come sometime in 1944. But the Allies had undertaken a massive and very successful effort at deception. They actually created a false army with inflatable tanks and massive appearances of strength across from the Pas-de-Calais in England. And that false army, then under the command of General George S. Patton, it was quite successful in fooling Hitler and the Nazi leadership into thinking that if the invasion came, when the invasion came, it would come at Calais. But it did not.

The invasion that began in the early hours of June the 6th, 1944, is the biggest single military operation ever undertaken in human history. The Allied forces included no less than seven thousand ships. That included 1,213 Allied war ships and over 4,000 other ships, which were used to carry personnel. In the darkness hours before the morning of June the 6th, Allied planes had dropped 24,000 paratroopers, who had already in the region begun to take roads and military assets and to establish communication lines, also destroying Nazi communication lines.

In the course of that single day, 132,000 Allied troops would land on those five beaches. But the beaches were not only daunting to take, in terms of their geography, they were also incredibly heavily defended, especially with gun emplacements and other obstacles that were placed in the way of the Allied troops. As they reached the shore, the Allied troops were also incredibly vulnerable to German machine gun fire. By the end of the day, 4,400 Allied troops were dead, 9,000 more were wounded.

But the operation, the invasion, was massively successful. It was successful however over time. It was successful in gaining surprise over the Germans. It was successful in establishing a beach head there in the Normandy Coast for Allied forces. It was successful in that it spelled the inevitable end of Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich. But it came with such an incredible human cost. A human cost for which that 4,400 dead on D-Day, was merely a down payment.

In a letter released to the invading troops on the morning of the invasion, Supreme Allied Commander, Dwight David Eisenhower addressed the troops with these words. “You are about to embark upon the great crusade toward which we have striven this many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world. Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well-trained, well-equipped, and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.”

Eisenhower concluded his letter writing, “I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory. Good luck, and let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.”

The night before the invasion, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had addressed the American people celebrating the fall of Rome to Allied control. He knew then what the Americans to whom he spoke did not know. And that was that the greatest invasion in human history was going to begin in just a matter of hours.

But on D-Day, in lieu of making another kind of presidential announcement, President Roosevelt instead led the nation in prayer. “Almighty God, our sons, pride of our nation this day, have set upon a might endeavor, a struggle to preserve our republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity. Lead them straight and true. Give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith. They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard for the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again. And we know they by Thy grace and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.”

Roosevelt continued with many words including these, “And O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee, faith in our sons, faith in each other, faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled, let not the impacts of temporary events of temporal matters of a fleeting moment let not these detour us in our unconquerable purpose. Thy will be done, Almighty God. Amen.”

But then we fast-forward 40 years to June the 6th, 1984, when one of the greatest speeches ever given by an American president was delivered right there at Pointe Du Hoc—that is one of the five invasion points of the Normandy invasion. President Ronald Reagan spoke of the invasion that day with several of the veterans of the battle before him. Speaking of the army rangers who has landed there at Pointe Du Hoc, President Reagan said, “Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the ranger daggers that were thrust into the tops of these cliffs, and before me are the men who put them there. These are the boys of Pointe Du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.”

Looking at the then aging veterans, President Reagan said, “40 summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs. Some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet, you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it?,” asked President Reagan. “What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you,” said President Reagan, “and somehow we know that answer. It was faith and belief, it was loyalty and love.”

The president concluded, “You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One’s country is worth dying for and democracy is worth dying for because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.”

Yesterday and today, the leaders of those Allied nations, including Queen Elizabeth II and President Donald Trump, led observances on the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion, the invasion of Europe that led to the defeat of Nazi Germany. But the difference was that in 2019, there were far fewer veterans. The youngest of those veterans would now be in their 90s. These observances are held every five years. Even if there had been boys as young as 17, and there were a few who were involved in that D-Day invasion, by the year 2024, they will be nearing 100 years of age. The International Press reported, probably rightly, that this is the last observance in which active veterans of the invasion are expected to be present.

It’s hard to know how to express gratitude in light of such a sacrifice. But the very least we can do is to recognize that we would not be having this conversation today, but for their courage and their sacrifice. And we can only hope that we are still a nation that can produce those men to whom President Reagan spoke, the boys of Pointe Du Hoc’. Boys no longer, but whose names are written in valor so long as history shall endure.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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