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Child Euthanasia Bill is ‘Counsel of Despair’, Says Bioethicist

Child Euthanasia Bill is ‘Council of Despair’, Says Bioethicist


Carly Andrews - published on 02/14/14

There will be immediate repercussions on vulnerable children in this evident "cultural shift."

On Thursday Belgium voted through a bill which would legalise Child Euthanasia at any age. There were an overwhelming 86 votes in favor of the bill, with 44 against and 12 abstentations.

The child would have to be "capable of discernment" by passing a psychological test and obtain parental consent after which they would be able to enter the process of being "euthanased".  

Aleteia speaks to British bioethicist, prof. David Albert Jones, Director of The Anscombe Bioethics Centre in the UK, on this shocking situation. 

1. What do you think about the decision to legalise child euthanasia at any age in Belgium?

"I think the decision is deeply shocking and also very revealing.  It is (or ought to be) shocking to us as we rightly have a natural wish to nurture and to protect the young. 

"If anything we have a tendency to over-treat children and not let go when they are being taken from us by illness and death.  The idea of deliberately giving a lethal injection to a child, perhaps a very young child, who is ill and vulnerable, is a counsel of despair that runs contrary to our best instincts.

"It is also revealing because it shows that advocates of euthanasia regard this kind of death as a ‘benefit’ that should be extended as widely as possible even to children. "

2. What will the repercussions of this decision be?

"This decision will have immediate repercussions on vulnerable children, and especially on teenagers, those who are testing the limits of their world and who may have little real grasp of the consequences of their actions. 

"It is for good reason that the law in England allows minors who are sufficiently mature to consent to treatment, but does not give those under 16 a right to refuse life-sustaining treatment. 

"These children are considered too young to vote or to marry to buy alcohol or watch certain films.  In various ways the state acts to protect children and young people from others, even from their parents, and sometimes also from themselves.  And yet, in Belgium, a request from a child, with no lower age limit, could be grounds for deliberately ending that child’s life. This is appalling."

3. Will this new bill have any particular long term effects on the cultural identity of Belgium?

"I think this decision shows the extent and speed of change in Belgium.  It is not an isolated example but part of an increasing number of instances where the law has been applied to people who are not dying but are depressed or tired of life or fear what the future may bring. 

"Euthanasia is being used on prisoners with life sentences and is being linked with organ procurement.  It is striking that there is no lower age limit in this legislation.  This is symptomatic of an inability to maintain any real or objective limits to the practice of euthanasia and there is every reason to believe that the limits present in this legislation (terminal illness, unbearable physical suffering) will be interpreted very broadly until they are explicitly overturned.

"There must be particular concern that this latest shift will undermine the morale of the paediatric profession in Belgium as, in many countries, abortion has had a dramatic effect on the ethos of obstetrics and gynaecology and the ability of Catholics (and others) to practice conscientiously within these disciplines."

4. Why do think the bill was so overwhelmingly voted through?

"The size of the majority vote shows that there has already been a significant culture shift and that euthanasia is coming to be seen not as an exception for unusual circumstances but as an ordinary part of medical practice and even as a desirable means of dying. 

"The acceptance of the practice has changed perceptions and this has led people to follow the logic of the practice and apply it more and more widely.  Where is was once denied that changing the law would lead to ‘bad’ consequences such as child euthanasia, later these consequences are embraced as good.  If anyone has doubts about the reality of the slippery slope then they need only look at Belgium.

"Numbers have increased every year since it was introduced and more people are asking for euthanasia as they are encouraged to regard it as desirable.  Once a society has set off on this road it is hard to reverse or even to slow the pace of further change.  However, from outside it is easier to see what is happening and why it is so important not to take the first lethal step."      

5. Why exactly is euthanasia always wrong?

"Euthanasia is always wrong because it always represents a decision to end life, to kill another human being.  It represents a failure as a society to commit ourselves to caring for every person to the natural end of their life.  It fundamentally alters the relationship of the professional and patient, and indeed of society to those who are ill. 

"While it is presented as facing death it is in a paradoxical way a symptom of our inability to accept death, it is part of the denial of death to think that we can somehow take control of death so that it is something we do.  It is basic to society that we acknowledge some essential values by accepting some fundamental limits to our actions upon others, and perhaps the most basic is that we do not take the life of another, accept as a means to protect society from unjust aggression."   

Prof. David Albert Jones is director of The Anscombe Bioethics Centre in the UK. 

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