In the early days of the abortion debate during the 1960s and 1970s, Fr Paul Marx OSB (of Human Life International) constantly raised in prophetic tones the connection he foresaw between the acceptance of abortion and the eventual acceptance of euthanasia. Clearly lack of respect for life at its beginnings would eventually lead to a lack of respect for life in general, and in particular, for the frail and the aged.
On April 10, the Dutch Parliament passed its latest controversial euthanasia bill into law. Notwithstanding the fact that euthanasia has been practised and tolerated in that country for years, the Catholic Primate of the Netherlands, Cardinal Adrianus Simonis, described the bill’s passage as a “black day for Europe”.
Euthanasia – already tolerated in Switzerland, Colombia and Belgium (though technically outlawed in all three countries) – has been legal in the State of Oregon since 1996.
Public debate on this issue has gained momentum in both France and South Korea. New South Wales and South Australia have bills before their respective Parliaments; other Australian State legislatures will probably follow.
In her Canberra Times article “Baby Booster for Young Mothers” (April 6, 2001), Jenna Price made the following observation in response to a Family and Youth Services Department paper on low fertility in Australia:
“In the ’70s we thought zero population growth was the way to go, but we still easily replaced ourselves and our partners.
“Now we know that declining fertility rates bring about a whole new set of problems. The workforce will be smaller. There will be fewer young people to pay taxes while the rest of us are in nursing homes.”
The UN demographers agree. In March of this year, their published forecasts predicted that the next 50 years will see the First World’s over-60 population more than treble, while the numbers of over-80s will more than quintuple.
By 2050 the developed world will, on present rates, see two senior citizens for every child, with those over 60 comprising 20 per cent of the population (currently they comprise 8 per cent).
Meanwhile, the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that of women entering or passing through their reproductive lives in the 1990s, 28 per cent will have no children.
Fewer children, a smaller workforce with a higher taxation burden and a rapidly ageing population portends a dramatic shift in population profiles and threatens economies, health and welfare and general standards of living – an argument, some would say, for institutionalised euthanasia.
Others, like Immigration Minister Ruddock, believe that an increase in immigration is the only solution.
Yet already it has been estimated that Europe, to maintain its working-age population in the long term, would need to import 3.6 million immigrants per year.
What is more, an injection of working age immigrants without addressing the issue of fertility rates will merely transpose the current dilemma 25 years hence and magnify the consequences.
Is there a solution? Despite mounting demographic evidence, it is hard to imagine organisations such as International Planned Parenthood and its affiliates swapping swords for ploughshares.
Already in countries like France, Greece, and Singapore, governments are paying additional benefits to entice couples to have children earlier and more often. Finance, or the lack of it, is clearly a significant factor in whether or not children are welcome.
The rationale that providing financial security is an incentive for families to embrace child-rearing, though unproven, is without doubt an important step. It must, however, be seen as the first step in a developing long-term strategy.
Another important aspect of the population crisis is the opportunity it presents to pro-life organisations.
The development of a strategy to see the abortion laws in each State properly enforced and then rolled back can now be more clearly articulated as a matter of the national interest.
As nations struggle with their response to this pending problem there opens a window of opportunity to lobby and to provide reasonable and well thought out solutions.
Co-operation across the spectrum of pro-life organisations is essential.
As our society reaps the last quarter-century’s demographic whirlwind, let us be ready to sow new seeds of hope.