Feature

Belgium: Euthanasia for children

Should terminally ill children be allowed to end their lives?

Should terminally ill children be allowed to end their lives? asked Oliver Tolmein in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Germany). Belgium is about to let them make that choice. The Senate passed an amendment to the country’s groundbreaking 2002 euthanasia law last week that would extend the right to doctor-assisted death to minors, and the lower chamber will certainly pass it as well. To qualify, the parents must consent, the child must be terminally ill and in pain, and the child must “understand what it means to ask to be killed.” Still, this law poses a moral quandary. After all, “it is the job of parents and society to protect children, especially ill children, and not burden them with inappropriate decisions.” On the other hand, children with terminal illnesses “often have very clear ideas of what they want.”

Belgians don’t see much of a question, said Stéphane Kovacs in Le Figaro (France). Euthanasia is thoroughly accepted there, and more than 2,000 Belgians ended their lives that way in 2010 and 2011. Not all were terminally ill: For adults, the law allows for doctor-assisted death if a person has “physical or emotional pain that is unbearable.” Just two months ago, Belgium approved euthanasia for a transsexual man whose sex-change operation left him deformed and miserable. Earlier this year, 45-year-old twin brothers, deaf from birth, were euthanized by doctors after learning they were about to go blind, although they had no terminal or physically painful condition.

This is a classic example of the slippery slope at work, said Graeme Hamilton in the National Post (Canada). When the country legalized euthanasia in 2002, it was only with “assurances that it would be tightly controlled and limited to exceptional cases.” Now doctor-assisted deaths amount to nearly 2 percent of all deaths, “and the definition of what is acceptable is expanding.” The federal body that polices abuses “only analyzes cases after the patient is dead,” and it’s stacked with euthanasia advocates anyway. It has investigated more than 8,000 deaths without referring even one for prosecution. One of the country’s leading euthanasia opponents, Tom Mortier, became transformed “from a typically indifferent Belgian into a raging critic” after a doctor granted his perfectly healthy 64-year-old mother’s request to be killed, ruling her depression incurable. “We set strict conditions, but we do not stick to them, not at all,” Mortier said. “Why? I think because euthanasia is made banal.”

A child in agony doesn’t care about a slippery slope, said Béatrice Delvaux in Le Soir (Belgium). Before the Senate vote, pediatricians testified about the intense suffering of terminal children under their care and their helplessness to alleviate the pain. Some said they had, in fact, gone ahead and administered lethal injections at the parents’ request. That’s why the amendment was required. “The existence of a law is the best safeguard against possible excesses of what was already being done in secret.”

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