Euthanasia: Belgium Debating Whether Children Have the Right to Die

Euthanasia for Children in Belgium

A new child euthanasia law which has been proposed in Belgium has many asking a very provocative question:  Should children have the right to die?

In Belgium, euthanasia is currently legal for anyone over the age of 18; but, that country’s government is pondering whether children should also be granted this right.  If it is legalized, Belgium would become the first country in the world to have such a law.

Those who are in favor of allowing children to request euthanasia – with the consent of their parents –  say that it will allow families to have a way out of a very painful situation.  They further claim that it is compassion which motivates them and say that it is wrong and unfair to deny children an end to their suffering just because of their youth.  Yet others say that such a law would only formalize what is already happening in secret.

Those who oppose such a law, however, question whether a child has the ability to make such a decision for themselves.  Some also suggest that, just like adults, children may not realize just how much they really want to live until they come face-t0-face with their own mortality.  If they are allowed to die prematurely they may never come to this realization, they say.  Another point which has been argued is that there are other alternatives to euthanasia, such as palliative sedation.  In palliative sedation, a patient is given medication to sedate them while life support is simultaneously taken away so the patient slowly dies of starvation.  This option is preferred by some since it doesn’t involve a doctor actively taking a patient’s life.

Belgium already has a history of leading on this issue.  Euthanasia became legal for adults in the year 2002.  In the ensuing years, the practice has become more and more commonplace, with the number of deaths rising from 235 in 2003 to 1,432 in 2012.  No statistics are available for the current year.

Only a few other countries have legalized the practice of euthanasia.  In the Netherlands, it is allowed under certain very specific circumstances.  Children over the age of 12 are allowed to be euthanized as long as there is parental consent.  There is also an understanding in that country that babies can be euthanized without fear of legal prosecution if the doctor has acted in an appropriate manner.  Euthanasia is also allowed in Luxembourg.  In Switzerland, doctors are allowed to help patients die, but cannot legally take an active role in killing them.  In the United States, two states allow for consenting adults with a terminal illness to have voluntary euthanasia:  Washington and Oregon.

The expansion of the existing euthanasia law to include children was proposed by the Socialist party, which is currently in power in Belgium.  The Christian Democratic Flemish party, however, is against the law and says it would challenge it in the European Court of Human Rights should it pass.

Although testimony has been presented on both sides of the euthanasia issue, the final decision from the Parliament could take several months.

In the meantime, however, many are asking whether Belgium is going too far by further expanding its euthanasia law.  In the last year, there have been a couple of high profile cases in which people who were not terminally ill were euthanized.  One case was a pair of deaf middle-aged twins who were going blind and another was a patient who had received a botched sex change operation.  Now, this latest proposal, which would grant children the right to die, has left even more people wondering whether Belgium has the crossed line, becoming much too willing to help people die.

Written by:  Nancy Schimelpfening


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