Friday, February 14, 2014

Belgium passes euthanasia law for children

The 13th of February 2014 like Dec 7th 1941 is a day that will go down in infamy. On this day a new and horrifying law on euthanasia for children was passed by the Belgian Parliament. Doctors will be allowed to kill children "under 18" who have been diagnosed as being terminally ill. 
This of course begs the question of how accurate is any diagnosis and in particular one that will allow life and death decisions will be made on the basis of quality of life issues?  Both the existing and the new law appear to be in contravention of the United Nations Disability Convention which in Article 25. f} calls for prevention of ‘discriminatory denial of health care or health services or food and fluids on the basis of disability.’ 

Euthanasia has been legal in Belgium since 2002 but since its enactment has been prohibited for patients below 18 years of age. The newly approved law allows minors to seek euthanasia under certain conditions and to extend the right to request euthanasia to adults with dementia. There is no age limit but the children who are euthanized would have “to possess the capacity of discernment.”

The decision to kill a child will have to be approved by the parents and the physicians in care. In addition the implications of his/her condition must be explained to the child including the fact that euthanasia means being killed.
This expansion of the current law makes it unique in modern Europe and is reminiscent of the Nazi era in Germany.

Many concerns have been expressed in relation to the original law on the basis that the number of euthanasia deaths in Belgium has shown a rapid increase, the 2012 increase being 25%. Recent studies indicate that up to 47% of all assisted deaths are not being reported, 32% of all assisted deaths are being done without request and nurses are killing their patients, even though the law restricts euthanasia to doctors.
--> One can only guess at this stage what the implications of the new law will be and how it will be administered.

Belgian pediatricians said that the law was not necessary as "palliative care teams for children are perfectly capable of achieving pain relief, both in hospital and at home". Many members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe signed a declaration saying that this law "betrays some of the most vulnerable children in Belgium" and "promotes the unacceptable belief that a life can be unworthy of life which challenges the very basis of civilised society". 

Following the adoption of the law by the Belgian Parliament it is now up to King Philippe of the Belgians to sign it into law and appeals are being made to him to refuse to do so. It will be remembered that his uncle the former King Baudouin refused to sign the law that liberalized abortion in 1990 by abdicating for a day.