The Belgian Parliament voted today to extend euthanasia to children with disabilities, in a move pro-life advocates worldwide had been fearing would come and expand an already much-abused euthanasia law even further.
The 86-44 vote Thursday in the House of Representatives, with 12 abstentions, followed approval by the Belgian Senate in December. No age limit would be set, but the children who are euthanized would have “to possess the capacity of discernment.”
The legislation permits a child to request euthanasia, with the consent of his parents, if there is a terminal diagnosis accompanied by great pain with no available treatment options. The measure also extends euthanasia to persons suffering with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Religious and family groups are criticizing the push for child euthanasia, and hundreds of Belgians have taken to the streets in protest.
Leading pro-life groups including Christian Concern lobbied against the bill, with that group saying the bill “will permit children of all ages to choose to end their lives through the administration of a lethal injection.
“Belgian officials have refused to allow for public input, such as a democratic vote, and are pushing the proposals through despite strong public opposition,” the group said.
Some 58 members of Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly Group recently signed a Written Declaration affirming that the move “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.” Meanwhile, 38 Belgian paediatricians have said that the Bill is unnecessary since “palliative care teams for children are perfectly capable of achieving pain relief, both in hospital and at home.”
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) with support from 61 Members has submitted a written declaration strongly opposing Belgium’s upcoming vote on legalization of euthanasia for children.
Also, more than 55,000 people have signed an online petition by CitizenGo calling for the proposals to be abandoned.
Euthanasia has been legal in Belgium since 2002 but has, since its enactment, been prohibited for patients under 18. While euthanasia is legal in a handful of countries in Europe, Belgium is the first country in the world to lift all age restrictions on the practice. In 2012, Belgium recorded 1,432 cases of euthanasia – a 25% increase from 2011.
There is still a chance to stop the bill in the House of Representatives, though pro-life campaigners fear it will become law.
“Currently the Belgian euthanasia law limits euthanasia to people who are at least 18 years old. This unprecedented bill would extend euthanasia to children with disabilities,” says Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition. “The Belgian Socialist government is adamant that the euthanasia law needs to extend to minors and people with dementia even though there is significant examples of how the current law is being abused and the bracket creep of acceptable reasons for euthanasia continues to grow. The current practice of euthanasia in Belgium appears to have become an easy way to cover-up medical errors.”
“Regardless of disability, life should be valued. To pass legislation that allows termination of life for people with disabilities who are minors is unacceptable,” he added. “Instead we must make every effort to use the research provided to us to provide attentive care to relieve their physical suffering in a moral way.”
Dr Paul Saba of Physicians for Social Justice, is very concerned about the situation in Belgium.
“They are already euthanising people who are depressed or tired of life because they have taken the interpretations of saying physical and/or psychological suffering – you don’t have to have both, if you have one, why is that not enough? If you are suffering, it’s a personal experience and it would be discriminatory for someone to judge what a person is suffering,” he says. “What this teaches us is that despite the government’s assurances that they will set very strict criteria, that won’t work.”
Testifying in front of Parliament in February, Professor Chris Van Geet of Leuven University asserted that the proposed law poses “an enormous ethicalproblem.” Following the vote on Thursday, Tom Mortier, a lecturer in chemistry at Leuven University and an anti-euthanasia campaigner, called the vote “insanity.” Professor Mortier’s own mother, who was suffering from chronic depression at the time, was euthanized in 2012.
“Her departure wasn’t the serene family gathering, full of peace and reconciliation, which euthanasia supporters gush about,” Mortier stated. “The University Hospital in Brussels phoned my wife the day after.”
The leaders of Belgium’s Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities put out a joint statement opposing the vote’s outcome. The statement read, “We mark out opposition to this extension and express our trepidation in the face of the risk of a growing trivialization of such a grave reality.”
There is enormous concern about abuses under the expanded euthanasia law.
Research conducted by the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) in 2010 found that 32% of euthanasia deaths in the Flanders region of Belgium occurred without an explicit request.
Meanwhile, according to Schadenberg:
The number of euthanasia deaths in Belgium is skyrocketing with an increase of 25% in 2012. 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.
Some Belgian experts are supporting the extension of euthanasia to children with disabilities because they say that it is being done already. The same medical experts suggest that the extension of euthanasia will result in an increase of 10 to 100 euthanasia deaths each year.
The Belgian euthanasia law appears out-of-control. The Belgian Euthanasia Control and Evaluation Commission appear to be in a conflict of interest. The Commission supported the euthanasia deaths of: Nathan Verhelst (44) who was born as Nancy, Ann G who had Anorexia Nervosa and was sexually exploited by her psychiatrist, Mark & Eddy Verbessem, and at least one depressed woman. These are only the cases that we know about.
Dr Wim Distelmans, who is the leading euthanasia doctor in Belgium has also been the chairman of the Belgium euthanasia commission for more than 10 years, and the commission has been stacked with supporters of the euthanasia lobby.
The Netherlands already allows children over the age of 12 to request euthanasia with the consent of their parents.