Thursday 13 February 2014

Moules Frites

Plucky little Belgium resists the Hun bully - exactly 100 years ago this 4 August

Belgium is a strange country but one for which I have a little affection based on a few visits. It is imaginative of them to discover the enormous merit in combining mussels with chips (and a big pot of mayonnaise of course) even if their fruit-flavoured beers are a clear mistake; it is curious that the country only exists on the whim of the winners of the Napoleonic wars (the Duke of Wellington in particular) and so not that surprising that the two distinct linguistic groups find it almost impossible to agree how to govern the country - and yet Belgium became arguably the most successful country in Europe when it didn't have a government - a lesson there surely; strange again that the only two Belgians anybody has heard of (Tintin and Hercule Poirot) are (a) erroneously but almost universally thought to be French and (b) fictional.

It is quite possible that Belgium's success is precisely a result of it having no cultural identity - with no axes to grind it can just pragmatically concentrate on enriching its citizens and generally having a good time, leaving it to individuals to decide what their cultural values are. Good luck to them.

But it saddens me that today the Belgian parliament is likely to extend the right to euthanasia to children (see the story here).

Exceptionally the law in the UK which forbids assisting people to commit suicide can cause distress - it is easy to point to a small number of cases where it is unfortunate that people cannot get help to die with dignity.

But exceptions make bad law. Euthanasia means that the state sees suicide as an accepted option - a very bad message especially to people with a serious mental illness, many of whom already take their own lives, a shocking, terrible tragedy not a lifestyle choice.

Further, legalising euthanasia brings other unintended consequences including pressure on people to stop bothering their family or services with their illness; and then there are all those ghouls who relish involvement in death (in contrast to the overwhelming majority of doctors who want nothing to do with euthanasia).

There is so much to applaud about Belgium's libertarianism but on this they have got it badly wrong.