News reports today suggest that the Belgian Parliament is on step closer to amending their euthanasia laws to include people with dementia and children. The
Australian article quotes the Le Soir newspaper as saying: "The existence of a law is the best means of guarding against possible malpractice," said the daily Le Soir newspaper, adding that it was "urgent and indispensable" to extend Belgium's 2002 euthanasia bill.
This is pure nonsense and is an argument based on emotion and bereft of reason.
The comment about malpractice relates to submissions from some Belgian pediatricians to the effect that they were already killing children. This is about protecting doctors - not protecting children. Doctors get immunity while children get a death needle! Why it would seem urgent is not explained - but indispensable?
It is claimed that this new provision would extend the reach of euthanasia in Belgium by '10 to 15' deaths per year. From hard experience we know that this figure is nonsense, especially given that the provisions of the current euthanasia law for unbearable and unrelievable suffering applies and now includes possibilities of depression and disability as the prime consideration.
The Australian article refers to a submission to the Belgian parliament by the a group of pediatricians who support the law change:
"Why deprive minors of this last possibility," they said in an open letter carried in the press, arguing that under-18s were able to make an informed and mature decision when facing death.
"Experience shows us that in cases of serious illness and imminent death, minors develop very quickly a great maturity, to the point where they are often better able to reflect and express themselves on life than healthy people."
Note the emotive language. Depriving minors! There's no doubt that some minors will have a better grasp of the gravity of their decision than others; but such decisions are never made in isolation. How does a child or teenager process the obvious anguish felt by their family; how do they understand it? Emotional maturity, particularly in young men, is arguably the last area of development towards maturity. How does a young person with a difficult prognosis process the knowledge that their pediatric specialist could kill them if they asked?
Given that only half of euthanasia deaths in Belgium are formally reported; that, of the reported deaths, evidence of request or consent was absent in 32% of cases and that there has never been a prosecution for breaches of the law in the last eleven years, what confidence can anyone hold that vulnerable young people will be protected under this new provision?
Update: Advice just in from our Belgian colleagues says that both the Senate and the Chamber of Representatives are yet to vote on this proposal and that the final vote may not now occur until May next year.
Belgian Senate will vote on bill to extend euthanasia to children with disabilities on November 26.
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