This past September 17, the head of Belgium’s Federal Control and Evaluation Committee on Euthanasia, Professor Wim Distelmans, confirmed to the Dutch newspaper “Het Nieuwsblad” the first case of euthanasia performed on a minor in Belgium.
No specific information concerning his case was revealed, except the fact that this young 17-year old person was suffering the final stages of a terminal disease.
Since the February 28, 2014 law decriminalizing euthanasia and extending the original law dated February 28, 2002, Belgium is the only country in the world to have legalized euthanasia on minors without any age restrictions.
Nonetheless, some specific criteria must be met:
- The minor must «possess the capacity of discernment”, which means he must be able to make life and death decisions rationally.
- The minor must be in “a medically futile condition with constant and unbearable physical suffering which cannot be alleviated, resulting from an accidental injury or a serious incurable pathology, with death foreseeable in the near future.”
- The minor must be examined by a child psychiatrist or psychologist to specify the reasons for his choice.
- The minor must obtain agreement in writing from his legal representatives (usually the parents).
Since the law was adopted, a few requests from minors had already been received, but until now, no cases had been granted the right for euthanasia. “Fortunately there are very few children who are in such a situation but this does not mean we should refuse them the right to a dignified death,” Professor Wim Distelmans told the Het Nieuwsblad newspaper.
In its report on euthanasia of minors, the European Institute of Bioethics recalls that almost 200 pediatricians stated, shortly before the extension of the law: “As of today we are perfectly capable of controlling physical pain, smothering or anguish in the throes of death. Established palliative care teams for children are fully able to relieve pain, whether in hospital or at home.” And: “Even the most complex medical cases can be addressed through available means and expertise within the present legal framework. For whom, then, is this law intended?”
Henri de Soos, Crisis Center Manager for Alliance VITA’s SOS End-of-Life hotline
“We can easily imagine the heartbreaking anguish and frustration felt by this young person and his family in making such a decision on euthanasia. Based on our crisis center listening experience and on the statements of pain specialists, we can confidently state that it is not legitimate to claim that euthanasia is the only possible solution. If physical pain – which in legal terms is the only valid criteria to justify euthanasia of a minor in Belgium – was too unbearable, how could we be sure that all alternatives proposed by palliative care were attempted, including if necessary, using sedation for terminal stages? There is an enormous difference between doing everything possible to relieve pain, even at the risk of hastening death, and causing death deliberately in a few minutes time by injecting a lethal substance. Unfortunately this new case is an example of the slippery slope that Belgium started in 2002, with a constant increase in the number of euthanasia cases, the persistence of numerous unreported cases of euthanasia, the distortion of highly publicized assisted suicides, the controversy over organ donations, and the obstination to eliminate the freedom of conscience clause, etc.”
For further information: Decoder N° 35, Euthanasia in Belgium, November 27, 2013 (currently being revised).
Web site SOS End of Life: http://www.sosfindevie.org/