Toward infanticide?

On February 13th 2014 Belgium made history by being the first country in the world to overwhelmingly pass a law allowing terminally ill children of all ages to die at a time of their choosing, if they are in unbearable suffering that cannot be eased and are terminally ill.  All that remains is the constitutional formality of the signature of King Philippe.

Once it has been legally established the question is could the criteria be interpreted ever more widely.  A paediatrician, Dr Gerlant van Berlaer, at the UZ Hospital in Brussels said on the BBC news: ‘we are not playing God – these are lives that will end anyway.’  It is not unheard of that children surprise doctors by recovering unexpectedly, so when will we learn that some things are just wrong?

This law seems strange when children are quite rightly not deemed responsible or mature enough to smoke, drink, have sex, vote, drive a car or join the army but can choose whether to take their own lives. Els Van Hoof, a Christian Democrat, along with other senators, fought successfully against the bill and managed to restrict it to children with terminal illnesses suffering unbearable pain rather than also including mentally ill children.

Killing children was condemned in Ancient societies and abhorred in Nazi Germany.  But child euthanasia is today being sold on the grounds of compassion and freedom of choice.  The abortion act of 1967 was supposed to include safeguards to protect babies, but today we legally slaughter thousands of innocent lives in the womb; will we look back in a few years and see that the safeguards for child euthanasia were not as safe as we thought they were?

Two Australians, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva (Journal of Medical Ethics) have already proposed after-birth abortion.  ‘After-birth abortion (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled’ but could bring an unbearable burden on the family.  Is this not a call for infanticide and the euthanasia of an innocent baby in today’s society?

What will happen to those children who have illnesses like anorexia or those who are just tired of life, when will they be allowed to choose to die?  Parental approval was once needed for underage children to get contraception; today that contraception can easily be accessed so we need to consider whether the same thing will happen with child euthanasia.  It is certainly possible that eventually children’s lives could be terminated without parental consent if they become too expensive or useless.

Children do not always realise the irreversibility of death and adolescence is known to be a time of learning through taking risks, often with poor judgement and distorted perspectives.  Can a young person in such a vulnerable situation be expected to make a decision uninfluenced by opinions of parents, medical personnel, peers and social media?


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