Belgium, which legalized euthanasia for adults in 2002, could soon extend that “right” to terminally ill children.
The European nation’s Senate voted recently to remove any age restrictions on the practice. If the lower house of parliament approves the legislation, Belgium would become the first nation to allow children younger than 12 to choose to die.
The Senate proposal does have some conditions:
• The child would have to be conscious of the decision and understand the meaning of euthanasia.
• The child’s parents and medical team would have to approve the decision.
• The child would have to be terminally ill and in great pain, with no treatment available to alleviate it.
In an open letter, 16 Belgian pediatricians had urged legislators to approve the practice, apparently to give themselves legal cover. One of the measure’s leading supporters said children already are being euthanized in some Belgian hospitals.
In other words, since the killing is happening, the killing should be legal.
That logic reflects “the culture of death” decried by Pope John Paul II. The jump from abortion to euthanasia, even euthanasia of children, is a short one in a world that measures people’s value by yardsticks such as quality of life (as determined by whom?) and productivity.
It is perhaps fitting that the opponents in the 50-17 vote – a disparity that reflects Western Europe’s growing secularization – were mostly conservative Christian Democrats. Outside of parliament, however, criticism crossed the lines of faith.
“We mark our opposition to this extension and express our trepidation in the face of the risk of a growing trivialization of such a grave reality,” Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders said in a statement.
As columnist Cal Thomas noted, “This is the problem when humanity does not accept an Authority higher than itself, an Authority that holds life, all life, however inconvenient, however tiresome, infinitely valuable.”
Apart from the philosophical and religious questions, there is the potential for abuse. What is to prevent parents, unable to bear the thought of seeing their child suffer, from pressuring that child to reluctantly submit? Or what about similar pressure from the medical staff, who, if the 16 pediatricians who called for the bill’s passage are to be believed, are inclined to prescribe death?
And how long will those conditions remain in effect? At what point might the medical staff be given the right to override the wishes of the parents and the child? Or when might governmental or legal authorities decide that they have the right to make that decision?
One Belgian senator, Christian Democrat Els Van Hoof, said more effort should be made to ease the children’s suffering rather than to kill them.
“We think that children don’t understand the character of death; they don’t understand the irreversibility of death,” she said during the Senate debate. “They are also influenced by authority, by their parents, by the medical team. So, to take a decision which is a huge decision about their death, we don’t think that they are capable of doing it.”