Child euthanasia has been approved in Belgium with no age limit on the procedure. Thus, it is open to any child who otherwise meets the criteria. Euthanasia for people over the age of 12 in Belgium has been legal for the last 12 years. This is a change in the law that would remove the stipulation that the person be at least 12 years of age to receive euthanasia.
Belgium is a predominately Catholic country, and the laws surrounding euthanasia have always been controversial. This new bill just passed by the Belgian parliament has ignited even more controversy in the country and around the world. One man in the room shouted the word “murderers!” when the bill was passed. Catholic Church leaders have stated that the law is “immoral.”
Under the new law, the child must be struggling with agonizing, unbearable physical pain and have verbalized the wish to die on repeated occasions. The child must also have a complete understanding of what euthanasia is and what it means. Thus, say the bill’s advocates, the new law would apply to a small percentage of ill children, most of whom would be teenagers.
While the Catholic Church and some pediatricians oppose the new law, Belgian citizens support it. Opinion polls in the country continue to show widespread agreement that euthanasia should be legal for all who qualify. Some parents of terminally ill children have stepped forward to discuss their experiences and explain why they feel the new law makes sense. One mother of a baby who died two years ago said she would have done anything to be able to end her child’s suffering peacefully. “That whole period of sedation, you always need to give more and more medication, and you start asking questions. And you say, ‘What’s the use of keeping this baby alive?” said Linda van Roy, who watched her baby girl slip away in the throes of physical suffering.
Some pediatricians feel that child euthanasia is not medically necessary and they have concerns over whether children actually have the aptitude to have a comprehensive understanding of what it means to choose the procedure. These physicians say that very few, if any, of their child patients would demand the procedure on their own. One nurse who works with terminally ill children in Belgium said that her main concern with the new law being approved with no age limit is that children might end up making a decision in order to please their parents. She worries that children may feel as though they are a burden to their families and that anxiety could inform their decision to select euthanasia.
Van Roy says she is advocating for the new law because children who are in unbearable pain that cannot be alleviated and who have no chance of recovery should have the right to choose whether they want to end their suffering. She says it is important for those children to thoroughly discuss euthanasia and to ask questions so they can fully comprehend the meaning of their decision. Lawmakers say the bill will give children the right “to die with dignity… without intolerable pain.”
Child euthanasia has been approved in Belgium with no age limit and the decision has created an international discussion and debate on issues surrounding the procedure. The new law is due to be signed by the King Phillip of Belgium, who is not expected to oppose it.
By: Rebecca Savastio