The new King of the Belgians now faces the first serious moral dilemma of his reign as the newly passed euthanasia bill will soon be brought to him to be signed into law. The bill, as most of you know by now, removes all age limits with regard to euthanasia, thereby allowing children to be killed if they are seriously or terminally ill. The Belgian parliament passed the bill last week and it is said that the bill has the support of the majority of Belgians. One report has indicated that the King's assent is likely.
Euthanasia in Belgium, as with its neighbours Holland and Switzerland, has become a fact of life. Originally presented as voluntary, the practice was supposed to allow those who want to die to do so if they were suffering from a terminal illness. Since being passed, euthanasia has now become involuntary and no longer carried out in situations where the person is terminally ill. It has become a practice which is starting to "weed out" the weak and vulnerable. This new law which will permit the killing of children will, no doubt, go the same way. At the moment there are a number of safeguards in the bill to prevent it being abused, but as experience has shown, these safeguards will ultimately become a legal fiction, a constitutional knob of butter and sugar to allow the legislation pass easily and will eventually be superseded by hard cases and loopholes in the name of compassion.
Now King Philippe, is facing a dilemma - what to do? If he is anything like his uncle King Baudouin he will refuse, indeed he will even be prepared to renounce his throne rather than sign into law an act which is clearly evil. But will he?
His uncle Baudouin was a Christian king who was committed to the Gospel of Life. He and his wife, Queen Fabiola, also a committed Catholic, were childless, and it was this cross that deepened their respect for human life particularly at its most vulnerable stages. Famously in 1990 he refused to sign an abortion bill into law. In order to avoid a constitutional crisis the government allowed him to temporarily be deemed unable to reign so as not to sign the bill into law. Some would say that that was not an ideal situation, that he should have refused to sign the bill and stick to his guns. And perhaps he should have, but we are not privy to the king's conscience and how he came to this decision. He did, however, take a stand. Other Christian monarchs did not take such a stand but assented to evil laws, Elizabeth II of England, head of the Church of England, among them: she assented to and signed Britain's abortion bill in 1967.
Other Catholic monarchs have taken more radical stands - Hereditary Prince Alois of Liechtenstein (who in effect reigns for his father Prince Hans-Adam) refused to permit the easing of laws banning abortion in the Principality, using his right of veto to do so. He threatened that the princely family would leave the Principality if the government attempted to remove his veto. The people, however, backed the Prince. In Luxembourg, the Grand Duke Henri took a similar stand against euthanasia. The Luxembourg government had to change the law which required the Duke's assent and signature to enact legislation. It was a loss of power for the Duke, but he was prepared to lose that rather than sign or approve the bill.
Will Philippe take such a stand? Philippe was very much favoured by his uncle Baudouin who prepared the young prince for the throne. Philippe inherited his uncle's deep Catholic faith and for this he is not very popular among the Belgians who, for the most part, have abandoned orthodox Christianity. There were many Belgians who did not want Philippe to succeed and had urged him to renounce his claim in favour of his sister Princess Astrid who is perceived to be more liberal. Philippe refused. They had hoped that he would not marry; however, he did, marrying late in life a woman who is also committed to her Catholic faith, and they have since had four children who are being brought up in the Catholic faith. Philippe in his life has endured a great deal of mockery for his religious convictions and was branded as a conservative who is out of step with the times. He once tried to introduce a bill to parliament banning pornography but it was laughed out by members of parliament who chastised him for his illiberal opinions. His quiet and serious personality has also irked some. It is interesting to note that both Philippe and his wife, Queen Mathilde were conferred with knighthoods by the Pope, a knight and dame of the Holy Sepulchre.
So, what decision will he make? Will he sign the bill, or remain true to his Catholic faith and to the common good and refuse? No doubt the liberal elements in Belgium who dislike their King and his principles will be watching carefully: "will this king create problems for us as his uncle did?" Or will he finally come into line? Will he give in to pressure? No doubt his people will love him more if he gives in, so the temptation of finally being accepted by the liberal faction in Belgium will be hanging over him. We will have to see. We must pray for him. The modern world needs men and women of principle who will be prepared to do the right thing regardless of the consequences for them. The right thing for Philippe is to refuse, the wrong thing is to assent.