The Belgian government is voting today to pass a law that legalizes euthanasia for children, by removing any age limit on the controversial practice of withdrawing life support, with the patient’s consent. As one of the three countries in the world that permits euthanasia, Belgium is now set to be the only nation in the world where euthanasia will be a legal option, irrespective of the age of the patient. The government’s final decision is expected on Thursday, after the law passes through the Belgian Chamber of Representatives. The bill has already passed through the Senate and the justice committee, leaving little doubt as to the outcome of this legislation.
As the Belgian government votes on the issue of legalizing child euthanasia, the rest of the world is still grappling with the issue of whether or not euthanasia should be permitted. As the nation braces for one of its most controversial decisions in recent times, both pro-life and pro-euthanasia groups have reacted strongly. Dr. Daniel Baquelaine, a Member of Parliament and a medical doctor who supports the law, said, “It is not about deciding whether a child is or is not to die, Death is coming quickly. It is therefore necessary to allow the child to express what he thinks of the end of life, about how to die.”
On the other side, Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard of Mechelen-Brussels has said, “We are opening a door that nobody will be able to close. There is a risk of very serious consequences in the long term for society and the meaning we give to life, death and the freedom of human beings.” Despite polarized opinions about the new bill, euthanasia for adults has enjoyed approval and support across the nation, since 2002, albeit with stringent controls.
The extension of the right to end life to minors is also expected to be subject to similar, if not greater, checks. As the Belgian government votes today on the issue of child euthanasia, the approval of both parents is essential, as is medical and psychiatric advice in order to qualify a terminally ill child for the procedure. Furthermore, a minor may only qualify if a medical team concludes that the child is undergoing unmitigated suffering for an untreatable and progressive condition that will only prolong the journey toward an inevitable death.
However, a group of pediatricians from across Belgium have opposed the bill on the grounds that there is no scientific and accurate method to determine a child’s discernment and, therefore, the decision taken to end a child’s life may be based on coercion or other influences. The Netherlands has already made child euthanasia legal. However, the Dutch nation permits parent-approved euthanasia only for patients who are more than 12 years old. As Belgium votes to legalize child euthanasia with no lower age limit, there remains a cloud of doubt and worry over the possible misuse of the law and its legal, political, religious, social and – more importantly – medical ramifications. While some hail the law as “progressive” and a positive step towards the prevention of unnecessary suffering, there are also those who describe it as a “murderous” law without adequate controls.
By Grace Stephen