Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Belgium ponders child euthanasia this week in parliament

Newspapers across the globe are reporting that this week the Belgian Parliament will debate extending the Belgian euthanasia laws to include children and those suffering from dementia or other "diseases of the brain". 

We have already seen in recent weeks that the Euthanasia definition on the grounds of "unbearable psychological or physical suffering" is being tested through a number of media-reported cases. Yet news reports suggest that two-thirds of Belgians support the amendments.

Commenting on the proposal Jean-Jacques De Gucht, MP for the Open Flemish Liberals and Democrats Party said, "This is very important because one child that suffers is one too many." De Gucht is working on the bill.

In The Netherlands euthanasia of neonates, though outside the law, is tolerated under what is known as the Groningen Protocol, named after the hospital where it was originally conceived. Officially, this accounts for about 25 deaths per year, mostly for disabilities difficult to detect in utero, such as spina bifida.

Adolescents from the ages of 12 to 16 years can access euthanasia with parental consent whist for 16 to 18 year-olds consent is not mandatory.

These developments raise the question: Whose suffering is being eliminated here? Sure, it is really hard to watch a child suffer - every parent understands that. But consider:

Dominique Biarent, head of intensive care at Queen Fabiola Children’s University Hospital in Brussels told the upper house of parliament earlier this year that it was clear that euthanasia was being carried out on younger people already. "We all know it," she said, adding that, faced with this reality, “doctors need a legal framework.”

Also this year the Royal Dutch Medical Association (KNMG), which represents doctors in the Netherlands, has said that distress felt by parents can justify euthanasia of a dying newborn.

The draft Belgian legislation calls for "the law to be extended to minors if they are capable of discernment or affected by an incurable illness or suffering that we cannot alleviate."

This is a real croc! Firstly, one wonders at whether a child can really comprehend the finality of such a decision; secondly, given their parents most-likely obvious distress, how likely is it that such a decision would be entirely objective. Then there's the option, of course, that if the child is 'affected by an incurable illness or suffering that we cannot alleviate,' there's no need for his or her consent at all.

And so, as Wesley Smith so eloquently put it, the Belgians continue to march lemming like over the moral cliff!

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