German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. "The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children."
If Bonhoeffer is right, then by any reasonable test, Belgium is failing its children and indicating to the world that it has abandoned any notion of society and morality.
The international media has been awash with stories of the Belgian's intent to extend their euthanasia laws to include Alzheimer's patients and to children. People in either group are unlikely to be able to provide reasoned consent - a test of any well-functioning medical system that focusses on individualized care. Neither of these groups can drive a car or possibly even vote, yet a pathway to death is soon to be opened to them.
If that is not enough to question the wisdom of passing euthanasia laws in the first place, consider the Belgian parent who has recently explained, a number of times, about the likely path to death to her ten year old son (who, by the way, is not ill).
The Newsweek website recently reported that pro-euthanasia Professor Jutte van den Werff Ten Bosch, speaking of her son, said, "Even if he said, 'I want to die', I'd support him," she explained. "I didn't put my children in the world for me. It's their life and their death. The best parents are the ones who let their children go."
Indeed, but the best parents also know that, until the 'age of reason' their charges are under their protection. How such protection can include telling a 10 year old how to die is beyond understanding.
Supporters and protagonists of this extension of euthanasia argue that sick children suffer too - so why not include them and the demented. They are either being told a lie or, perhaps, the Belgian palliative care system isn't what it should be, or what we're told it is.
Dr. Benoit Beuselinck, a medical oncologist at the University of Leuven Hospitals explains: "It's always possible to control pain and terminal anxiety with medication," he said.
"If that's not enough, a palliative sedation can induce the child into a deep sleep, and it won't suffer any more. The patient will then usually die within several days and during this period the family can stay with the child and start the mourning," he said. "The process of dying is a natural process, and we have to respect this natural process as much as possible."
But Peter Deconinck, emeritus professor of pediatric surgery at the Free University of Brussels sees it differently, arguing that it's high time to break the taboo surrounding child euthanasia.
"It's our duty. Children today are not like they were 50 years ago. They have mature minds," he said. "It's not like terminally ill children go to the doctor and say, 'I'd like to die.' But terminally ill children spend a lot of time on oncology wards. It's a doctor's duty to speak to such a child in a plain manner, perhaps not saying everything the first time, but little by little."
Did you notice that? Whereas one would expect an adult seeking euthanasia to raise the matter for themselves, Deconinck thinks that he and others should lead children to such a decision. How is that about freedom to choose? What sick child in such circumstances would have the strength and clarity to say a clear 'No'? Does the doctor wait until the parents have left the oncology ward for the day before he or she approaches the child and suggest that they 'do the deed' for the parents sake?
This is unconscionable behaviour. The very fact that the Belgians are even considering it tells us clearly that the normalization of euthanasia leaves an indelible and sinister mark on the social mores that renders the unspeakable as acceptable.
No wonder that Carine Brochier of the European Institute of Bioethics in Brussels warned, "We're becoming the world's euthanasia laboratory. Euthanasia is becoming a Belgian trademark, just like waffles."
She warned that the child euthanasia law would open an ethically dangerous door. "What's next? Euthanasia for people with dementia? Then for handicapped people?" she said. Precisely.
But Belgian euthanasia's founding hero Prof. Jan Bernheim sees it differently:
"Becoming fully human is a gradual process that's completed when the fetus becomes viable and has finished acquiring all the potentials to become a person," said Bernheim. "Similarly, the end of life with dementia is a gradual process of involution in which most attributes of personhood end up being lost.
"Already now, almost everywhere, such patients are not resuscitated or given antibiotics, treatments that are considered futile when they only prolong suffering. Their blighted life is not considered deserving of the degree of protection that is given to other human life."
'Blighted life'? That says it all.
Consider also, how would any parent be able to resist the pressure to agree that their child's life was not worth living, that it would be sparing the child and the parent anguish and grief if they simply agreed with their child - who has already been influenced by the likes of Bernheim or Deconinck - that they should agree to the killing of their offspring?
The Newsweek journalist asked a couple what they would do:
Sébastien and Marie Petit try to visualize what it would be like if they had a terminally ill child who said he wanted to die. "I'd listen to as many opinions as possible," said Sébastien. "I'm not a medical professional, so I'd go with what the majority told me."
Still think there's no slippery slope?
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