Lessons to be learned as Belgium King signs measure legalizing child euthanasia

 

By Dave Andrusko

King Filip-Philippe of Belgium  (Reuters / Francois Lenoir)

King Filip-Philippe of Belgium
(Reuters / Francois Lenoir)

It’s odd, at least in a sense. Beginning with the vote by the 50-17 Belgian Senate in December, followed by an equally lopsided 86-44 vote in the Belgian Chambers of Representatives last month, there was no question that the minimal age limitations on when a child could be euthanized would be lifted.

Nonetheless I was still jolted when I read today that the Belgian press was reporting that on Sunday King Filip-Philippe had signed the measure into law. I don’t anything about the political system, except that as a constitutional monarch, there was virtually no chance the King would not sign the proposal.

We’ve written dozens of stories about the collapse of medical ethics in Belgium. Let me add just two additional considerations which may allow us to “get our minds wrapped around this” (an idiom I read more than once).

This morning I read a piece that had appeared at a news outlet in Australia a couple of days ago, written by correspondent Barbara Miller.

Protesters, who call themselves the "yellow jackets", hold banners and placards as they demonstrate against a new law authorizing euthanasia for children, in Brussels February 11, 2014.  (Reuters / Laurent Dubrule)

Protesters, who call themselves the “yellow jackets”, hold banners and placards as they demonstrate against a new law authorizing euthanasia for children, in Brussels February 11, 2014.
(Reuters / Laurent Dubrule)

It’s a revealing piece, the conclusion of which is (a) Miller can see both sides, and (b) she is fascinated by how Belgian journalists wound up interviewing journalists from other countries. Why did this intrigue the locals? Because offing children of any age is nooooo biiiig deeeal, so why did all these reporters parachute into Belgium? (There evidently is strong support, at least as judged by public opinion polls, which ask the question in the tamest possible manner.)

She asks rhetorically earlier in her story, “How could a child possibly ever be in the position to ask to die and how could a society sanction that?” (Being able to give “consent” to their own deaths is one of the boxes that needs to be checked. This is one of the usual assurances that the impact will be limited and that there are more protections than there are fish in the sea.)

As we wrote in previous posts, Belgian commentators and medical personnel are ticked off that anyone could possibly have doubts about, let alone look down at what is, in their minds, just another step in Enlightenment.

Yet, as Miller writes

“A doctor we interview, who is in favour, says it annoys him when media reports about the bill feature pictures of very young children. But when I ask him if hypothetically a 10-year-old could, under the new law, request euthanasia he agrees that it is theoretically possible.”

Just to be clear, it isn’t theoretically possible, it IS possible and will no doubt be heralded as a victory for “autonomy” when the first case goes public.

Still, to those of us who are outsiders, neonatal euthanasia is –as opponents argue–a “step too far.” (Actually, it is not a step but a huge leap into a moral abyss, but we’ve leave that for another day.)

But when Miller asks one proponent why he supported the law, there is no hesitation. His answer speaks volumes:

“’I’m a liberal,’ says senator Jean-Jacques De Gucht, when we finally sit down and I ask him why he’s been so outspoken on the issue.”

Miller’s take on that?

“A simple yet striking answer to this complex question.

“The rational, intellectual take seems somehow quintessentially European.”

Ah, yes, so “European.” So sophisticated, so intellectual, so rational, and so bloodless.

The other element worth reflecting on is something I have quoted before from Dr. Peter Saunders. It is extremely useful in clearing up a misunderstanding of how euthanizing children came about in Belgium—and for sure will be on the docket in other countries, beginning with Belgium’s northern neighbor, the Netherlands.

“I have never been convinced by the term ‘slippery slope’ which implies passive change over time. What we are seeing in Belgium is more accurately termed ‘incremental extension’, the steady intentional escalation of numbers with a gradual widening of the categories of patients to be included.

“I recently described the similar steep increase of cases of assisted suicide in Oregon (450% since 1998) and Switzerland (700% over the same period). In the Netherlands since 2006 the number of official cases of (lethal injection) euthanasia has doubled since 2006, although many other people (possibly up to 12.3% of all deaths) are having their lives actively ended through the process of ‘continuous deep sedation’ whereby doctors deeply sedate patients and then withhold fluids with the explicit intention that they will die.

“The lessons are clear. Once you relax the law on euthanasia or assisted suicide steady extension will follow as night follows day.”

 

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