IT WAS reported this week that in Belgium twin brothers were killed by lethal injection at their request because they believed they were suffering "unbearable pain".
Belgium, which is far advanced down the post-Christian road, is one of the few countries in Europe that permits euthanasia.
The middle-aged brothers, who had lived together all their lives and worked as cobblers, were both deaf and in the process of losing their sight. Therefore, neither was terminally ill, nor was either in physical pain. Their pain was psychological.
There was absolutely no international outcry about the killing of these brothers as there was following the death of Savita Halappanavar. It seems our shock reflex is conditioned in one direction only. We are only shocked by cases that cast pro-life laws in a bad light, never by ones that cast pro-choice laws in a bad light. It is no wonder public opinion is bit by bit embracing both abortion and euthanasia.
The Belgian example shows that there is indeed a slippery slope in these matters. When Belgium first introduced euthanasia, it was supposed to cover only cases where a person was terminally ill or in extreme physical pain.
As the case of the twins shows, you no longer have to be dying or in physical pain. Mental suffering is enough.
Belgium's socialist government is now proposing to extend the euthanasia laws to cover patients suffering from Alzheimer's and even to children 'mature' enough to decide that their suffering is unbearable. What next?
The High Court in Ireland ruled last week against permitting assisted suicide, although the woman at the centre of the case, Marie Fleming, has decided to appeal.
The High Court ruled that permitting assisted suicide – a variety of euthanasia – would send out the wrong signal to society. It would help to normalise the idea of suicide, to present it as an acceptable option to people facing certain terrible situations.
The court warned that allowing assisted suicide could put pressure on vulnerable people who are also suffering from terrible diseases to end their own lives. It could signal to them that their lives are not really worth living and that it would be better not to be a burden.
On the very same day that the court delivered its ruling, the Oireachtas Health Committee was completing its abortion hearings. One of the big topics of the three days was suicide.
The committee heard from various people whose line, in effect, was that feelings of suicide are an understandable reaction in women faced with an unwanted pregnancy.
So at one end of town we had a court warning against the dangers of normalising suicidal feelings, while at the other an Oireachtas Committee was going a long way towards doing precisely that. Of course, it will be objected that some women do become suicidal as a result of an unwanted pregnancy and that we have to acknowledge this fact.
But likewise, some people faced with a horrible illness can have suicidal thoughts. That is also a fact.
However, in this latter case we try our best not to make those suicidal thoughts seem acceptable to the general public because we know that if we do, more people will entertain such thoughts.
Ireland has had a spate of high-profile suicides lately. Suicide is already being increasingly seen as a normal and understandable reaction to some of life's troubles. This is disastrous, and it is killing people.
In the past, a huge stigma attached itself to suicide. Suicide victims could not be buried in consecrated ground. We were told that someone who killed themselves would go to hell. The stigma was cruel because it cast a shadow over the families of those who committed suicide.
But it almost certainly saved lives. It was an attempt to make suicide unthinkable, a taboo too terrible to contemplate.
We cannot go back to that taboo because of its cruelty, but what we are doing is moving to the other extreme. As usual.
Societies operate according to norms and conventions. We do what other people do. In one age certain behaviours and attitudes are deemed acceptable and in another they are unacceptable. We learn which is which and we adjust our behaviour and attitudes accordingly.
In Belgium it is abundantly clear that euthanasia is becoming more and more acceptable. The case of the twins, who said they could not bear the thought of not seeing each other, proves that. The proposed extension of the law to people with Alzheimer's and to children also proves it.
IF THE High Court had recognised Marie Fleming's 'right to die', there is absolutely no doubt that the same process would have begun here. There is also very little doubt that all the talk about suicidal pregnant women is sending out the awful signal that feeling suicidal is normal in certain situations.
The fact is that our national conversation about suicide, especially the conversations we have been having about assisted suicide and abortion, is helping to normalise suicidal thoughts.
When you normalise suicidal thoughts you will inevitably get more suicides.