The Associated Press published the following report on October 31, 2013 concerning the Belgian debate to extend euthanasia to children and people with dementia.
In Belgium, where euthanasia is now legal for people over the age of 18, the government is considering extending it to children — something that no other country has done. The same bill would offer the right to die to adults with early dementia.
Advocates argue that euthanasia for children, with the consent of their parents, is necessary to give families an option in a desperately painful situation. But opponents have questioned whether children can reasonably decide to end their own lives.
Belgium is already a euthanasia pioneer; it legalized the practice for adults in 2002. In the last decade, the number of reported cases per year has risen from 235 deaths in 2003 to 1,432 in 2012, the last year for which statistics are available. Doctors typically give patients a powerful sedative before injecting another drug to stop their heart.
Only a few countries have legalized euthanasia or anything approaching it. In the Netherlands, euthanasia is legal under specific circumstances and for children over the age of 12 with parental consent (there is an understanding that infants, too, can be euthanized, and that doctors will not be prosecuted if they act appropriately). Elsewhere in Europe, euthanasia is only legal in Luxembourg. Assisted suicide, where doctors help a patient to die but do not actively kill them, is allowed in Switzerland.
In the U.S., the state of Oregon also grants assisted suicide requests for residents aged 18 or over with a terminal illness.
In Belgium, the ruling Socialist party has proposed the bill expanding the right of euthanasia. The Christian Democratic Flemish party vowed to oppose the legislation and to challenge it in the European Court of Human Rights if it passes. A final decision must be approved by Parliament and could take months.
In the meantime, the Senate has heard testimony on both sides of the issue.
The debate has extended to medical ethicists and professionals far from Belgium. Charles Foster, who teaches medical law and ethics at Oxford University, believes children couldn’t possibly have the capacity to make an informed decision about euthanasia since even adults struggle with the concept.
“It often happens that when people get into the circumstances they had so feared earlier, they manage to cling on all the more,” he said. “Children, like everyone else, may not be able to anticipate how much they will value their lives if they were not killed.”
There are others, though, who argue that because Belgium has already approved euthanasia for adults, it is unjust to deny it to children.