Belgium is about to become the first country to allow the murder of “terminally ill” children of any age when it’s lower house of parliament votes on new “right-to-die” legislation.
The draft law, which has already been cleared by the Belgian Senate, goes way beyond the Dutch legislation, which carries a minimum age of 12 for children who are apparently “mature enough” to decide to end their own lives.
Surprisingly, and sickeningly, the bill has popular support in Belgium. Adult euthanasia became legal there in 2002, and the new bill is expected to pass easily in the Chamber of Representatives because most of the opposition parties will support it, along with the governing Socialists and liberals.
The Christian Democrats, even though they’re members of Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo’s coalition, are opposed to the bill. Religious leaders from the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities have denounced it in a rare joint declaration and Catholic bishops have led days of prayer and fasting against it.
“This is not about lethal injections for children. This is about terminally ill children, whose death is imminent and who suffer greatly,” said Carina Van Cauter, a lawmaker for the Flemish Liberal Democrats who back the law.
“There are clear checks and balances in the law to prevent abuse,” she said of the law, which will need the signature of King Philippe before it comes into force.
According to the law, the only children to be “put to sleep” like dogs must be “capable of discernment” and must be tested by psychologists to determine that they understand what they’re doing. Parents must also approve of the “child’s decision”.
Supporters say these “safeguards” will rule out the very young and teens who aren’t mature enough to decide ; However, I personally believe that children at any age are not mature enough to decide they want to end their lives, and the fact that there’s no set age limit for this program frightens me in that it could be a “slippery slope” that leads to things like genocide or after-birth abortion.
Indeed, the opponents of the bill dismissed the aforementioned rules as “arbitrary” and warned the new law would lead to a “slippery slope of ever wider interpretation and a ‘banalization’ of euthanasia.” I have to agree.
Brussels Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, head of the Catholic Church in Belgium, asked at a prayer vigil last week why the state wanted to give minors such responsibility when they had to wait until 18 for many other legal rights.
“The law says adolescents cannot make important decisions on economic or emotional issues, but suddenly they’ve become able to decide that someone should make them die,” he said.
Belgium’s euthanasia programs have come under scrutiny internationally in the last year. It granted the “right to die” to deaf twin brothers who were about to go blind, and to a transgender person after a botched sex change operation.
At least the new law specifies that “children seeking euthanasia” must be terminally ill – and not just in a state of “unbearable suffering” (the qualification for adults) – to qualify for the program.
Sonja Develter, a nurse in Belgium who has cared for about 200 terminally-ill children in hospice care since 1992, is firmly opposed to the bill.
“In my experience as a nurse, I never had a child asking to end their life,” Develter told Reuters before the vote.
But requests for euthanasia did often come from parents who were emotionally exhausted after seeing their children fight for their lives for so long, she added.
Supporters of the bill say that in practice, there aren’t going to be that many minors who will be allowed to die.
After the child euthanasia law went into effect in the Netherlands in 2002, only 5 cases have taken place. Overall, however, Dutch euthanasia cases have been somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 people a year.
There was only one case of a Belgian under the age of 20 who requested euthanasia between 2006 and 2012, and over 1,000 people apply for euthanasia in Belgium every year.
Besides Belgium and the Netherlands, euthanasia is also legal in Luxembourg, and France is considering legalizing it sometime in 2014. Switzerland allows “assisted suicide” if the person concerned takes an active role.
In the U.S., assisted suicide is legal in Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington state.
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