Today Belgian lawmakers voted to pass a bill that would allow child euthanasia to be performed in the country. If the bill is passed it would make Belgium the first country in the world to legally allow child euthanasia for children of any age. The bill was approved 86 to 44 with 12 abstentions and must be signed by King Philippe in order for it to be in effect.
The country has had legal euthanasia for adults for 12 years for those defined as being in constant unbearable mental suffering, or physical pain that can not be alleviated. In the child euthanasia bill, it states that there are strict conditions in order for the procedure to be authorized. The child in consideration must be terminally ill and near death, also he or she must be suffering beyond the point of help from any medical drug or procedure. The bill also states that while there are no age restrictions, the child would have to request the euthanasia and understand the full meaning of what it entails. He or she would then be accessed by a team of doctors and psychologists who would have to approve the request, then parental consent must be given in order to go through with the procedure.
Opinions are mixed on whether the decision to pass the bill in Belgium is ethical. A movement by 175 pediatricians who signed a letter urging that more time is needed to better assess whether it is right to make child euthanasia legal. The letter argues that giving children and their families the decision over when they die would add more stress to the situation. It adds that modern medicine is accessible in the country, should any child need palliative care in their last few days to ease their comfort. The letter poses the question of how a child would be able to objectively make a decision of such gravity and realize the full implications of the result. The pediatricians also argue that there is no real demand for child euthanasia in Belgium, and there has been a political push to make it seem as though the law is urgently needed when it may not be the case. Sonja Develter, a palliative care nurse believes that children would make decisions based on what they think their families want. They might feel as though they are burdens, and may interpret the option of euthanasia in a suggestive manner.
Belgian native and mother, Linda Van Ray, feels differently. She was the mother of a terminally ill baby named Ella-Louise, who was just 10 months old when she died. Although the baby would have never qualified for child euthanasia due to her inability to consent, Van Ray supports the bill. She explains how she could do nothing to ease the pain of her dying child and was forced to watch as her life slowly left her. Doctors withheld food and water so that her life was cut shorter and her suffering would be less dragged out. Van Ray’s baby had Krabbe disease, a terminal degenerative disorder that affects the nervous system. She speaks of her baby in palliative care saying “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?’” Van Ray wishes she could have ended her baby’s pain sooner, instead of medicating her and watching her struggle for so long. Her experience is why Van Ray decided to campaign in favor of the bill to make child euthanasia legal. She wants children and families to have an option to not go through all the suffering if they do not have to.
The bill is sure to provoke more strong feelings in Belgium and the rest of the world if it passes. The delicate nature of the decision is why many feel it is not appropriate to legalize euthanasia for children. Others feel that passing the bill would give suffering children an option to have peace sooner and lessen their pain. Either way, the decision of whether to pass the bill will not be taken lightly.
By Lian Morrison