Belgium’s legalisation of child euthanasia is an inherently immoral policy

Every human life is a precious gift which should be treasured and not cast aside because it is viewed to be flawed or imperfect

Photo credit: n74jrw

Photo credit: n74jrw

There has been enormous controversy in Belgium over the past several weeks over the recent legalisation of euthanisation of children. Although euthanisation of adults is already legal in both Belgium and several other countries, Belgium is now the world’s first country to allow child euthanasia – though it has been legal in some countries in the past, for example in Germany from 1939 to 1945.

Originally the bill went as far as to allow euthanisation of children who merely felt tired of life or suffered from anorexia. However, thanks to the efforts of MPs from the Christian Democrat Party, the scope of the bill was limited just to children suffering from severe illnesses or disabilities.

This piece of legislation raises enormous moral issues. Some supporters of child euthanasia will argue that children suffering from disabilities or severe illnesses may be a burden on their families and that they are likely to require a lot of costly medical care and thus also be a burden on the state and the taxpayer.

But this raises the question of whether we in the West have become such a materialistic civilisation that we value people only by their contribution to Gross Domestic Product. Is the life of an individual who generates millions in tax revenues for the state over their lifetime more valuable than the life of somebody who is in constant need of support from the state due to their illness?

I would argue that every life is a precious gift which should be treasured and not cast aside because it is perceived by some to be flawed or imperfect. Also, what many forget is the fact that many people with disabilities live long and fruitful lives. Disabilities did not stop Stephen Hawking from becoming one of the world’s leading physicists, nor did they stop Franklin Roosevelt leading the US through the Second World War.

The bill includes a section stating that children must understand what euthanasia is, and their parents must approve the child’s request to die. An argument made in support of the policy is that the right of an individual – including a child – to choose whether to end their life is of fundamental importance. They argue that to restrict such a right is a restriction of freedom.

Feike van den Oever who works on the children’s oncology ward at a Belgian hospital, and whose own son died of cancer when he was eight, challenges this argument. He says:

“Children try to understand what is going on. Does that mean they gain competence to decide or request that kind of solution [euthanasia]? No. Not in my view.”

Freedom is not an intrinsic good. It is highly questionable whether an eight year old suffering from a severe illness has sufficient knowledge to use the freedom granted to them by this law to make an informed decision about the ending of their life.

While child euthanasia is inherently wrong, the fact that legalisation has become a reality is merely a consequence of an overall trend in the Western world away from valuing human life. In the same way that in our wealthy society we simply dispose of any items we feel we don’t need or we perceive to be flawed, our society increasingly views human life as something which we have the right to discard. How much respect for life and our fellow human beings should be sacrificed at the altar of so-called progressivism?

16 comments

  1. “There has been enormous controversy in Belgium over the past several weeks over the recent legalisation of euthanisation of children.”
    Incorrect. This is not on the front pages. Since the law in Euthanasia law in 2002, there has been a lot of debate in parliament about how the law was functioning and how it could be improved upon. The debate is a lot less polarized than you suggest.

    “for example in Germany from 1934 to 1945.”
    Incorrect. I mean… Seriously?

    I can respect people who oppose euthanasia but you are choosing to misrepresent what is actually going on in Belgium. If you’re correct with your facts, you might earn the respect of those who don’t agree with you..

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  2. 25 Jan ’14 at 11:29 am

    Daniel Cooper

    @ benjamin
    I don’t accept your claim that the legalisation of child euthanasia is not polarising in Belgium.

    BBC News “Belgium divided on euthanasia for children”

    As for Germany – it is a well documented historical fact that child euthanasia was once legal there.

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  3. I’m rarely offended by articles in student media, but this one is pretty vile, due to the (surely deliberate?) omission of some key information.

    The new law in Belgium, as I understand, is not just about allowing “children suffering from severe illnesses or disabilities” to die.

    It is about terminally ill children, who are experiencing unbearable physical pain. Why did you not mention this? It is not about killing children that are ‘flawed or imperfect’.

    Under the guise of “respect for life”, you show none by apparently insisting that we force individuals to attempt to draw every last gasp of breath possible, regardless of how much pain and suffering this causes.

    How is that respectful?

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  4. I read this open mouthed. Comparing euthanasia to the Nazi genocide is unbelievable and indescribably offensive to the families of genocide victims across the world.

    I can’t believe this article has been published on here, work with this lack of evidence and research should be confined to Youtube comments.

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  5. The right to life also includes the choice to end ones life if so desired.

    Rather then asking why the west is so concerned about the GDP, perhaps ask why religious centered ideals are being used to restrict man’s freedom and increase suffering – all in the name of God’s glorious gift of life.

    Stephen Hawking developed his disabilities during post graduate studies.

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  6. This article is an insult to the innocent people who are faced with diseases so severe and life intervening, that they feel like that have no other choice but to end their life. To basically suggest that if Stephen Hawkings and FDR can do it, everyone can is a majorly flawed argument. What the writer fails to mention are two things. A) those people have/had the best medical support that can buy and are therefore in a better materialistic position than most. B) disease aside, these two people are famous for their mental determination and perseverance in their respective careers. How can you expect a child to have such mental ability? These are two extremely unrepresentative and inappropriate examples.
    Overall, I must point out that I have deep issues with legalising child euthanasia. However they are more due to problems of consent, rather than the rubbish spouted out by this article.

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  7. Really, we hit Godwin’s law before even getting to the comments.

    You claim that freedom isn’t an intrinsic right yet you simultaneously claim that life is absolutely precious. I think you don’t really have any respect for people suffering at all. There are people in this world for whom every waking moment is blinding agony with no chance of recovery. These people have no wish for life at all yet you wish to force it upon them because of your idealistic belief that all life should be preserved at all cost. To me, it seems that your beliefs are far closer to those of the Nazi’s than the Belgians as you seem to think that those who are different to you should be forced to live in eternal agony.

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  8. 28 Jan ’14 at 11:57 pm

    Rupert Summers

    Fantastic article that highlights this awful evil of child euthanasia. These people commenting don’t understand the sanctity of life, they would cart off their own grandmother to Dignitas if she caught a cold..

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  9. This article reeks of a bias from the very get go with a damnable headline and sub headline. It seems to just be a very prejudice rant that was concluded at the very top and then everything else between was unthought out junk.

    More repugnant is the fact that people in these comments who are also critical of this article are being thumbs downed en masse.

    This knee jerk attitude belongs in the tabloids, therefore the trash. Sorry but this piece and the subsequent dismissal of reason is just disheartening. I’d hope for better from my Uni’s paper.

    Rant over.

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  10. “These people commenting don’t understand the sanctity of life”

    So tell me, Rupert, what *is* the sanctity of life? Where does it come from? (hint: try to answer without mentioning God)

    Presumably you don’t literally mean all life has sanctity; unless you think it is wrong to kill bacteria and plants.

    Presumably you don’t even think it means all *human* life has sanctity; unless you think it is wrong to kill cancer cells, or hair or skin cells?

    Presumably you actually mean it is wrong to kill human life that is *self-aware*, or has the *potential* to be self-aware (in the case of embryos etc). In which case you’re not attributing value to human life per se, but rather to sentience/self-awareness. If this is true, then surely the *quality* of life of that sentient/self-aware being has some relevance?

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  11. 30 Jan ’14 at 5:23 pm

    Rupert Summers

    @Matt Sharp. In your arrogance, you can not even contemplate the existence of God. How can you answer any questions of morality without a higher authority?

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  12. @Rupert, I can *contemplate* the existence of God.

    The thing is, my God (the Flying Spaghetti Monster) disagrees with your God. In your arrogance, you did not even contemplate the existence of Gods who don’t agree with you.

    So maybe you should try to find reasons based on entities that we both agree exist?

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  13. 30 Jan ’14 at 9:11 pm

    Rupert Summers

    You didn’t answer the question

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  14. @Rupert Summers Because morality doesn’t have to be based on a being that rationally is infinitely improbable and even if a being existed or a set of beings, or in fact the whole universe connected. Why would that entity(ies) or collective even be reflective of humans when the universe is almost unimaginably vast. What is so important about us? This kind of thinking belongs long before the enlightenment when we thought we were at the center of the universe.

    All of the main stream religions morality is based off of tradition, law and culture passed down by generations of human beings. A lot of it collected in their own religious texts, sometimes at odds with each different ‘prophet’ or author. In the west tweaked by philosophers, Aristotle, Plato in Greece and later Aquinas etc.

    Those of us able to rationally debate without an absolute prejudice can see both sides of the argument. I can see the dangers of child euthenasia, or the right to die for children. It is difficult to know whether they understand or have come to terms with what dying might entail. But I can also rationally be able to see that on the other hand, having the right to die early could save a child from prolonged and unnecessary suffering. Much more cruel than dying itself.

    My problem with the religious morality that see’s life as an absolute good is that it completely and utterly ignores the suffering that living can bring. Not by reason but by mindless belief.

    If you were too say that the risk of children being unready to make a decision to die outweighed the suffering that could be curtailed. And thus the suffering of an early death was greater, I would respect your argument. If it factored in the impact on family. Or perhaps the impact it might have on passing further laws that could jeopordise citizens safety in hospital care. I might respect your argument.

    But not when it relies on your skewed view on what your deity might want.

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  15. Guys, these immature comments are what youtube is for.

    Let’s just all agree that this is a horrendous article and leave it at that.

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  16. To run away from this issue is terribly in consistent with what we have already. And as the opposing Belgian doctors noted in their petition, the law allows this already so why bother making a new one? And our laws allow it too.

    Fistly, a key point misrepresented here is the difference between choice (stemming form freedom) to request or act to end your own life, and control (stemming from use of power with good will) to end someone else’s. The former is, or is consent-wise akin to, suicide, with or without assistance, action or would-be neglectful inaction. The latter is euthanasia. We already have the legal framework of consent, onto which to build clarity and some more sophistication, but not if it is simply shouted down like this and not if whenever people see ‘euthanasia’, they do not ask who is in control.

    Where there is a right to commit suicide in Western countries, there is usually no right to ask for help. The fear is that in so giving it, control passes to the helper. This does not have to be so, and if it did (such as in ‘carting’ granny off to Dignitas, as one daft poster put it), it is no longer suicide anyway. (A woman called Frances Inglis tried to take this initiative for her son in recent years. Horribly sad. She was jailed for murder.)

    If one is free to end one’s own life, and if the helper is not in control, then there is no social devaluing of life, there is just freedom to live or die, as there is presently, and the right to do it with medical assistance (which should be freely given). The writer appears to be against that freedom as, he says, freedom is not all good. But he seems to be confusing personal freedom with the kind of freedom of neo-liberals – freedom to screw over other people who are too weak to resist so hey, tough. Not my kind of freedom either, but this is NOT the freedom to consent exercised by a competent adult or child (yes, CHILD – we do it already) when they say ‘no, thank you’ to life-saving treatment, to have an abortion or kill themselves. Many believe this could be the freedom to say ‘please carry out this act and end my life for me’ (and like Tony Nicklinson, avoid end up doing it a nastier way by refusing treatment). Checks must be very rigorous, and money or being ‘a burden’ (and, I think, depression) must never come in to it.

    The reasons this framework cannot be extended to action to end suffering (other than on a case by case basis – we are doing it occasionally, folks, when continuation is futile) are largely due to moral arguments that say ‘we know better that you do yourself’, a minimal number of cases in the High Court that fell short of assisted suicide law, and to do with medical ethics which, as it stands, does not have this scope and complexity to work out how doing ‘no harm’ can be by bringing about a good death. Why should doctors be able to NOT act as it causes suffering, but not be able TO act to finally alleviate it? Not straightforward, but a debate, if unheard or shouted down like this, I think leaves a massive and strange gap in our medical- and social-ethical ideas.

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