Would you let your child end her own life?
Belgium became the first country to legally allow children to choose the right to die if very ill. Needless to say, there are plenty of people who strongly oppose this idea, and others who support it.
As parents, the value of our children’s lives cannot be measured. We protect them from every imaginable danger and would even give up our lives for them if we had to.
There are times though, that life can be unjustifiably cruel. Kids sometimes have to battle life-threatening illnesses. Sometimes, the odds are in their favour and they are cured. But other times, they find themselves fighting a losing battle.
Faced with such a situation, if the child’s parents were asked the question “would you let your child end her own life?”, how would they respond? Could you imagine allowing a child to make this decision?
In Belgium, euthanasia was legally approved for kids of any age a few years ago, with the first child dying by euthanasia in 2016.
Euthanasia has been legal since 2002 for people over the age of 18 in Belgium and they don’t have to be terminally ill to request to die. If a person requests euthanasia, doctors would give him a powerful sedative before injecting another drug to stop his heart.
But with this law now covering children there, a whole new can of worms has been opened.
Where else in the world is euthanasia for humans legal?
Euthanasia is outlawed in most countries, except a few as of March 2018.
- The Netherlands – here, euthanasia is legal under specific circumstances and for children over the age of 12 with parental consent. There is also an understanding that infants, too, can be euthanized. If this happens, doctors will not be prosecuted if they act appropriately.
- Luxembourg – euthanasia for adults is legal.
- Switzerland – Assisted suicide is allowed here. This is where doctors help a patient to die but do not actively kill them.
- USA – Assisted suicide requests are granted for residents aged 18 and over with a terminal illness in the state of Oregon. Washington, Vermont and Montana have also passed laws allowing euthanasia.
- Columbia – Columbia is the only country in Latin America, where euthanasia is allowed. They had their first case in 2015
- India – Passive euthanasia by means of the withdrawal of life support to patients in a permanent vegetative stateis legal in India. Forms of Active euthanasia, including the administration of lethal compounds, are illegal.
- Euthanasia for children with parental consent is needed to give families an option in a desperately painful situation;
- The law, if passed, would provide children suffering from serious illnesses a merciful way out;
- If abortion is legal in certain situations, why not euthanasia?
- It would legalise a practice that is already going on in secret;
- Since euthanasia is already approved for adults, it would be unjust to deny children of this choice if the need is equal.
According to reports, Dr. Gerlant van Berlaer, who is a pediatric oncologist at the Universitair Ziekenhuis Brussels hospital, says the changes have just made legal what is already happening informally.
Dr van Berlaer says, “children have different ways of asking for things but they face the same questions as adults when they’re terminally sick. Sometimes it’s a sister who tells us her brother doesn’t want to go back to the hospital and is asking for a solution. Today if these families find themselves (in that situation), we’re not able to help them, except in dark and questionable ways.”
The law mentions that children choosing euthanasia would have to be of ‘sound mind and judgement’, effectively ruling out infants.
But does this mean that older children are any more capable than an infant of making a rational, informed decision when it comes to choosing the right to die? Opponents of euthanasia for children don’t think so.
- Children simply don’t have the level of mental maturity needed to make an informed decision about euthanasia when even adults struggle to grasp the concept;
- Euthanasia for children could open the door to infanticide;
- A process called palliative sedation makes euthanasia unnecessary. This process involves sedating patients and then taking away life-sustaining support withdrawn so they starve to death over a few days, or sometimes longer;
- If a child is not allowed by the law to buy alcohol or cigarettes, or get married, how can they be allowed to make the choice to die?
- Children, like everyone else, may not be able to judge how much they will value their lives unless death was imminent;
- Children will never choose to die because they don’t really understand what death is. They will not understand what euthanasia is, even if explained.
Euthanasia for children is not a topic that can be discussed lightly. It’s a topic that’s riddled with ethical and moral issues that are complicated and nuanced, which is why debates around euthanasia have been going on for many years, and will continue in the future.
For some parents, watching their child suffer from an illness that they know is incurable, euthanasia would present as the most humane option to end their child’s pain. But for other parents, the thought of supporting their child’s decision to end his or her life would be unthinkable.
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