Interview with Professor Ghins, Professor of Philosophy at the Centre for Philosophy of Science, Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium.
This interview first appeared in French on the Belgian website Euthanasie Stop.
Prof. Michel Ghins - The Act of 28 May 2002 provides access to euthanasia for adults with an incurable disease that causes unbearable physical or psychological suffering. The extension of this law for children, whatever their age, includes the following restrictions: the death of the child is expected in the short term, only physical suffering is considered, a child psychiatrist or psychologist (note: the law does not specify that it must be a specialist in children) must certify that the child is capable of understanding at the time of request for euthanasia. Parental consent is also required.
Intend to conscientious objection?
Yes, no doctor is obliged to accede to a request for euthanasia. Only a doctor is allowed to perform euthanasia.
The law has come into force, despite the dissent of public opinion. Was the reaction insufficient?
It is difficult to comment on the state of public opinion. Many people confuse euthanasia (which is intentionally taking a life at the patient's request) and therapeutic escalation (phasing-curative). In addition, few know that all suffering can now be alleviated by appropriate palliative care and, in rare cases, the use of a deep sleep, (reversible) palliative sedation. Since 2002, palliative care has made great progress. The vast majority of pediatricians who care for children in later life are opposed to this legislation.
The law was passed in the Senate where experts were been consulted. But in the House, in the Committee of Justice, no new expert hearing was accepted, even though several parties requested it. The health committee was not consulted. No-one has asked the Council of State. It is true that some parties, mainly Flemish Socialists and the Liberals forced the law to be passed quickly, before the elections on May 25.
From the law when it is applicable and in what context? Is an appeal is possible?
The law will apply when it has been signed by the King, promulgated by the Government and published in the Belgian Official Gazette, probably in a few weeks. In Belgium, no appeal seems possible to me.
Does this law relate to children with disabilities?
This law does not apply to disabled, but only dying children. But it is true that disability organizations are concerned about the evolution of the law on euthanasia, which gradually extends to categories of increasingly large population.
The Belgian community is known for its spirit of "good child" and is welcoming. Is it not another paradox, this violence behind the walls of hospitals?
Defenders of the law believe that euthanasia is a humane gesture, an act of compassion, the last palliative care. This is false, but that's what they think. Euthanasia is always a homicide and therefore a violent act, and certainly cannot be considered palliative care.
When a country passes laws that does not guarantee at all, especially the weak, the right to life is it not undermining the foundations of law? Is the community now exposed to an outright implosion?
The law on euthanasia in 2002 and a fortiori its extension to children is very worrying indeed. The right to life is the foundation of all other rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other major authoritative texts. Since 2002, according to the reports of the Commission that monitors the application of the law (Euthanasia Evaluation Commission), we find that more and more cases of euthanasia are endorsed as the conditions of the Act are not strictly followed. The law is interpreted increasingly wider. There is nothing very surprising since 9 members of the Committee of 16 members are related to associations in favour of an extension of the law. There is now an uncertainty as to respect the lives of the elderly, the very sick and highly vulnerable in Belgium. Some people start to fear. Doctors declare publicly that they perform illegal euthanasia without being the least bit worried about prosecution.
We saw seniors migrate from The Netherlands and choose nursing homes in Germany for fear of euthanasia at home. At the international level, what consequences Belgian law it may have, including adoptions?
A Russian MP has suggested that Russian child should not be adopted by the Belgians. We'll see if the Russian parliament adopted this measure. At the moment, it is difficult to assess the impact of the law on adoptions. However, it is noted that the lives of seriously ill children are sufficiently protected in Belgium.
Could Belgian law expose the country to European sanctions or should we fear the contrary, a "contagion" in Europe?
It is difficult to assess the possibility of EU sanctions, and a possible contagion. In my view, the extension of euthanasia to children in Belgium should sound as an alarm bell for countries tempted by legalizing euthanasia! The decisive event in Belgium was the passing of the law decriminalizing euthanasia in 2002. Once the line has been crossed, a tipping of attitudes inevitably occurs and euthanasia becomes part of the culture. We talk openly here of a "right" to euthanasia and the obligation of all institutions of care (clinics, hospitals, nursing homes etc.) of accessing euthanasia within their walls. If we decriminalize euthanasia, even in "strict conditions", there is a dam failure (in the words of Habermas) and it becomes impossible to stop the extension of euthanasia to larger groups of people.