Belgium approves law allowing euthanasia for terminally ill children

SOURCE: Deutsche Welle

Belgium is already known for its very liberal approach to euthanasia in Europe, but the approval of its expansion to include children has been fiercely debated. DW looks at the arguments for and against the law.

    

"Why wouldn't you give children, who are incurably sick and who are unbearably suffering the same possibilities adults have?" asked Dr. Jan Bernheim from the research team for terminal care at the Free University Brussels, speaking to DW before the law was approved.

Professor Bernheim wants to give terminally ill children in Belgium the option to voluntarily end their own life. According to the cancer researcher, children are surprisingly grown up and can think clearly when they are seriously ill.

"They're not as young as the calendar says. They are in fact psychologically much older and more mature than their calendar age would suggest," he told DW. "That's why the majority of Belgian pediatricians want to meet the children's desire to die in these cases."

Killing suffering children on demand?

Recently, 16 leading pediatricians wrote an open letter demanding an expansion of the practice of euthanasia to sick children, which was published in two Belgian newspapers.

However, an alliance of religious groups vehemently disagreed. Representatives of Catholic, Protestant, Christian Orthodox, and Muslim religious groups published a common declaration stating that euthanizing minors is morally and ethically reprehensible.

"A child cannot buy a house in Belgium. A child cannot buy alcohol in Belgium. And this law would allow a child to ask to be killed. And that is a real problem," Carine Brochier of the European Institute of Bioethics in Brussels told DW earlier.

The Belgium parliament is now discussing a possible extension of euthanasia to minors as well as dementia patients at an early stage.

'Euthanasia kits' are available in Belgian chemist shops for GPs 'Euthanasia kits' are available in Belgian chemist shops for GPs
    

In Belgium euthanasia implemented by doctors has been legal for 11 years. Almost 1,432 elected to be euthanized in 2012 alone.

Next to the Netherlands and Luxemburg, Belgium is the most liberal nation when it comes to euthanasia laws in the European Union. In other EU states, euthanasia is either forbidden, or severely limited.

Psychological suffering and euthanasia

The debate over euthanasia has heated up over the last few months after several spectacular cases emerged. In the October version of the Belgian magazine "Panorama," TV journalist Dirk Leestmans reported on a detainee who was granted the right to be euthanized.

The inmate said the detention and the conditions in jail had caused him extreme psychological suffering and he therefore wanted to die. The case is still being reviewed by the courts. The inmate hasn't been euthanized yet, but his request seems poised for approval.

A woman holds the arm of an old man wishing to die in the hospital to support him A woman holds the arm of an old man wishing to die in the hospital to support him
Now, the TV reporter is asking the uncomfortable question of whether euthanizing detainees, who are not incurably ill, is essentially bringing back the death penalty in Belgium through the back door.

This is not the only case that created an international sensation. At the beginning of October, a 44-year old, going by the name of Nathan, was euthanized after a failed sex change operation. He said his wish to die was legitimate because of unbearable psychological suffering.

Nathan was born a woman and suffered from the feeling of having the wrong gender identity all his life. He underwent so-called gender reassignment surgery in 2012, but his body rejected the new sexual organs. Nathan subsequently felt mutilated and told Belgian newspaper "Het Laatste Nieuws": "I didn't want to become a monster."

The doctor who gave him the lethal injection, Wim Distelmans, told the same newspaper that the decision was made after six months of struggling with the issue and that it wasn't easy.

'Euthanasia gives a sense of security'

According to Bernheim, euthanasia based on unbearable psychological suffering is not granted recklessly. "If the death is still many months or even years away, then you have to consult a third doctor, who's often a psychiatrist. Then you need one month of respite, which means you have to wait one month until you can get it done."

93-year-old Belgian Amelie Van Esbeen went on a hungerstrike because her request for euthanasia was denied 93-year-old Belgian Amelie Van Esbeen went on a hungerstrike because her request for euthanasia was denied
    

Opponents of this new branch of euthanasia argue that the psychologically ill should be treated rather than killed on demand. Brochier is concerned about softening the criteria and indicators for euthanasia.

"The supply of euthanasia is building the demand for euthanasia. The more you offer it the more people will ask for it," she said. According to her, it would be better to further expand palliative medicine, to support the dying process by controlling the pain and renouncing life-prolonging measures, such as artificial nutrition and respiration.

Cancer doctor Bernheim also wants an expansion of palliative medicine and says 30 percent of all people who demand to be killed because of their unbearable psychological suffering are denied their wish. From those whose wishes are granted, the majority decided to live and to only keep euthanasia as a last resort.

"The majority of these people continue to live. But they have the security that they could die if they really can't bear it anymore. But most of the time they continue to live."

'Society is changing'

Opponents of an expansion of euthanasia, such as Brochier, want a serious discussion within Belgian society after 11 years of legalized euthanasia. They say family members, hospital staff and doctors are extremely burdened by the euthanasia law. Despite its legal status, many doctors refuse to euthanize people.

"Euthanasia is not easy. It's not fun to kill someone. Euthanasia is really killing and that's not good for the person doing it, even if it is to kill suffering. It's also killing society," Brochier said.

According to her, the number of unreported cases of euthanasia is high and has yet to be explored. Brochier reports of having spoken to elderly people who fear they will not receive proper medical treatment anymore because they think in the long run, euthanasia is more economical for hospitals than year-long care.

The Belgian parliament hopes to decide on a reform of the euthanasia law after several months of hearings. According to opinion polls, three quarters of Belgians agree with the current liberal regulations for euthanasia.

12/14/2013

See also
'Euthanasia has become fashionable': Ethics expert on the right to die 'Euthanasia has become fashionable': Ethics expert on the right to die 'Euthanasia has become fashionable': Ethics expert on the right to die 'Euthanasia has become fashionable': Ethics expert on the right to die
"It becomes a general mentality – If I'm sick, old or just don't want to live anymore, I just fill in the form and ask for euthanasia. We don't invest in palliative care anymore...it's very fashionable to ask to die in this way."
A woman’s response to the Culture of Death A woman’s response to the Culture of Death A woman’s response to the Culture of Death A woman’s response to the Culture of Death
As we face an increasingly secular and materialistic world, the role of women as bearers of life is consciously and masterfully being turned upside down.
In Belgium euthanasia for children with consent of their parents may be legalized In Belgium euthanasia for children with consent of their parents may be legalized In Belgium euthanasia for children with consent of their parents may be legalized In Belgium euthanasia for children with consent of their parents may be legalized
More than 1000 Belgians every year make the decision to depart from this world by means of euthanasia in accordance with the existing statute in the country.
How legal euthanasia changed Belgium for ever How legal euthanasia changed Belgium for ever How legal euthanasia changed Belgium for ever How legal euthanasia changed Belgium for ever
The ideology of absolute self-determination has become sacred and unquestionable.
New book reveals the shocking truth about euthanasia and assisted suicide in Belgium, Netherlands New book reveals the shocking truth about euthanasia and assisted suicide in Belgium, Netherlands New book reveals the shocking truth about euthanasia and assisted suicide in Belgium, Netherlands New book reveals the shocking truth about euthanasia and assisted suicide in Belgium, Netherlands
A new book by Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition (EPC), challenges the myth that vulnerable people are not at risk under euthanasia and assisted suicide legislation.
Death, Dying, and Euthanasia Death, Dying, and Euthanasia
Fr. Stanley Harakas
Death, Dying, and Euthanasia Death, Dying, and Euthanasia
Fr. Stanley Harakas
Euthanasia is held by some to be morally justified and/or morally required to terminate the life of an incurably sick person. To permit a dying person to die, when there is no real expectation that life can sustain itself, and even to pray to the Authorof Life to take the life of one "struggling to die" is one thing; euthanasia is another, i.e., the active intervention to terminate the life of another.
Comments
Luca12/25/2013 1:23 am
It is clear that Europe has decided to cancel its own identity: christianity.
Instead of our Lord Jesus, Europe is worshipping idols so this will lead us directly to self destruction. A tragedy , but not uknown to Christians as the Bible reminds it all the time.
Europe has decided to destroy everything, man and its values. No more families, same sex "marriages" , euthanasia even for babies !
In Italy we do not have such things, but here the enemy has a different strategy: if the new "omophoby law "is approved by the senate , you will risk going to jail if you just state that marriage is only between a man and a woman. But a few people are aware of it !
That is why many Italian Orthodox christians like me look at Russia with lots of hope and admiration.
Luca
Here you can leave your comment on the present article, not exceeding 700 characters. All comments will be read by the editors of OrthoChristian.Com.
Enter through FaceBook
Your name:
Your e-mail:
Enter the digits, seen on picture:

Characters remaining: 700

Subscribe
to our mailing list

* indicates required
×