Last year I wrote about the euthanasia of a 44 year old Belgian transsexual, Nathan Verhelst, which you can find in my blog here. Although Belgium first legalised the right to euthanasia for adults in 2002, recently its Senate voted to extend the law to children who are terminally ill, and suffering unbearable physical pain. Many Belgians support this new draft bill as they believe those children must have the right to decide about their own end of life, but there are also opponents against it, who see it as a slippery slope.
Paediatrician and supporter of the bill, Dr Gerlant Van Berlaer, says, ‘We are not playing God – these are lives that will end anyway. Their natural end might be miserable or very painful or horrifying, and they might have seen a lot of friends in institutions or hospitals die of the same disease. And if they say, “I don’t want to die this way, I want to do it my way,” and that is the only thing we can do for them as doctors, I think we should be able to do it.’
However, Christian Democrat senator, Els Van Hoof, disagrees, and fought successfully to restrict the bill to children with terminal illness suffering unbearable physical pain. ‘In the beginning they presented a law that included mentally ill children,’ she says. ‘During the debate, supporters of euthanasia talked about children with anorexia, children who are tired of life – so how far does it go?’
You can read more about it in this BBC magazine article here. You can also hear more about it by listening to BBC Radio 4′ s The Report – Right To Die programme here.
It certainly raises some difficult ethical questions, and I can understand why euthanasia is illegal in Britain. However, in the Netherlands, euthanasia is already legal for children over the age of 12, if they have the consent of their parents, and if the Belgian bill is passed in the lower house of parliament, Belgium will be the first nation in the world to lift all age restrictions.