In 2002 the Belgium Senate passed The Act on Euthanasia. This act allows a person who has attained, “the age of majority or is an emancipated minor, and is legally competent and conscious” to request, from a physician, the termination of his/her life without criminal offense. Under this act there are detailed conditions that must be met including, “the patient is in a medically futile condition of constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering that cannot be alleviated”.
Since euthanasia has been deemed lawful for legal adults in Belgium many more bills have come before the Belgium Senate, seeking to extend euthanasia possibilities. “Three private members bills have been put forward to widen the scope of application of euthanasia with respect to patients who are minors.” (European Institute of Bioethics) Testimony, in favor of and in opposition, of this proposal has already been argued in front of the Senate. The public now waits for Parliament’s response.
Those in favor of the proposal insist that this option would give families the availability to help their child end incurable pain (with the child’s decision and parental consent). John Harris, professor of bioethics at the University of Manchester stated, “The principle of euthanasia for children sounds shocking at first, but it’s motivated by compassion and protection.”
On the other hand, challengers of the proposal raise the question whether children are mature enough or capable of rationally deciding their own deaths. Catholic Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard stated, “It is strange that minors are considered legally incompetent in key areas, such as getting married, but might (be able) to decide to die”. Accordingly, the Christian Democratic Flemish party has declared its intention to bring challenge to the legislation, in the European Court of Human Rights, if legalized.
Do patients of all ages have a right to the act of euthanasia? Even with parental consent, do you think children are competent to make a decision this drastic? Does there need to be strict regulation so that the availability of euthanasia is not abused? Is this a gift that can now be afforded people enduring extreme suffering or is it an unthinkable option that should not be available for anyone?
The Belgium Act on Euthanasia of May 28, 2002
European Institute of Bioethics
Euthanasia is such a complicated concept. I used to be completely against it until I personally saw someone I loved suffer from extreme pain and slowly die knowing that there is no cure and there is absolutely no hope for that illness. If an adult is fully aware that there is no miracle that will save them or no chance that they will survive and they know that their death will be drawn out and painful, is euthanasia the way to go? I still hesitate to answer that question. For an adult to answer this question when they are aware that there is not a cure for the illness they have, it is complicated. I feel that there is a lot of room for legal suits to occur because relatives can argue that their loved ones were not of sound minds to comply and allow the doctors to euthanize them. I agree with the Archbishop that in an area so important about life or death, the country considers the children capable of making such a life changing decision, but with issues of lesser consequence, they are not adept to make those choices.
I would like to know what the legislation considers to be age of majority. Though the definition doesn’t sway my opinion with regards to whether this legislation should be on the books, I think it would add a basis to the conversation. If Belgium is already allowing adults to consent to euthanasia, then I would imagine that this would need to be extended to youths as well. The statute allows for patients in a medically futile condition of constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering that cannot be alleviated to make a decision with regards to their existence on this planet. Just because children have spent a shorter time on this planet, doesn’t mean they are subjected to less pain. It is hard to imagine that a child would have the awareness of hopelessness, but it is possible. Imagine a situation where the child wanted to die, but their parents wouldn’t consent. Is it right for the child to be submitted to pain just because of the wishes of the parents? It’s a complicated situation with passionate arguments submitted by both parties. I believe that this law will ultimately be passed by the Belgium government, but it represents the slippery slope that exists once issues of this nature are allowed by law.
Although, the principle of euthanasia for children sounds shocking at first, I am not against it in any way. I do think that procedural safeguards should be put into place before this should be allowed. Parental consent and child’s consent may not be enough in some cases. We do not trust a child to get married, buy cigarettes, vote, or drive a car, but now we are letting them choose when to end their life? Challengers of the proposal raise the right question of whether children are mature enough or capable of rationally deciding their own deaths. But, death is must different than driving a car or choosing someone on a ballot. Death is something only you yourself can control. Children should not have to suffer in terrible pain until they are the age of majority when they can finally seek relief and peace.
Like Marissa, I too used to be completely against euthanasia, but my opinion has also changed through the years. Personally, I believe that only God should determine when someone should die, but I am sympathetic to the chronically ill patients who are suffering daily and I would honor their wishes at either end of the spectrum. But children are a different story. Children are more vulnerable, less experienced, and they should not be able to make a life or death decision especially without parental consent. Since most minors under the age of eighteen need parental consent to tan or to a have an abortion, parental consent should definitely be required in situations such as euthanasia. I agree with the Archbishop that even though minors may be competent to marry, deciding to take one’s life is a consequence no one can come back to learn from. Therefore, I believe that Belgium should impose stricter regulations for minors.