Belgium passes right-to-die law -- for children, with no age limit

A little more grease on the slippery slope. They’ve packed the law with lots of conditions to raise the bar: Although there’s no age limit, the child needs to be capable of “discernment” of his condition; he needs to be not only in a state of unbearable suffering (the standard for adults) but terminally ill and close to death; he needs his parents’ approval; and even if all of those are met, he still needs to be approved by a team of doctors and psychologists. Given all the prerequisites, you might think they’d be better off sticking to ye olde “don’t euthanize kids” rule. The fact that they’re pushing ahead anyway makes me think this is essentially gestural. For whatever reason, the right to die is important enough to them that they want to be sure it’s on the books even for children. Even for eight-year-olds.


Problem one: How do you know the eight-year-old is telling you what he wants and not what his parents want?

Palliative nurse Sonja Develter, who specializes in end-of-life care for children, told CNN she is concerned that giving children a choice would mean they made decisions based on what they thought their families wanted to hear, and that it would be a terrible strain for children who may already feel they are a burden to their caregivers.

“In my experience as a nurse, I never had a child asking to end their life,” said Develter to Reuters. Problem two: Why grant children a right like this when, increasingly, medical technology is making it easier for the terminally ill to hang on?

While supporters in the medical profession say such euthanasia is likely to be applied only in a few cases a year, the paediatricians claimed it was not necessary. They said they had never faced such demands; palliative care was now so sophisticated they could “fully control the physical pain, choking, or anxiety as they approach death”.

They added that allowing euthanasia for children would create unbearable stress for carers and relatives.

Problem three: Why extend this right to children when the law typically deems people legally incapable of giving informed consent to anything until their late teens?

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.


Euthanasia is typically justified as “death with dignity.” How many 10-year-olds could explain what that means?

Here’s CNN’s report on the bill. Fair warning: It’s difficult to watch in parts.

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Jazz Shaw 8:01 PM on October 02, 2023