Back in 2002, Belgium became one of the first countries to legalize euthanasia for people over the age of 18; however, the right was still restricted to younger people. Now the country’s ruling socialist party is trying to introduce a bill that will expand the euthanasia law to children and people with dementia.
"Children have different ways of asking for things but they face the same questions as adults when they're terminally sick," Dr. Gerlant van Berlaer from the Universitair Ziekenhuis Brussels hospital told the Associated Press. "Sometimes it's a sister who tells us her brother doesn't want to go back to the hospital and is asking for a solution. Today if these families find themselves (in that situation), we're not able to help them, except in dark and questionable ways."
Among European countries, euthanasia is currently legal in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. In Switzerland, where assisted suicide has been legalized, patients are allowed to travel into the country to die. Oregon is currently the only U.S. state to allow assisted suicide for a person over the age of 18.
Belgian health care professionals and lawmakers have now opened discussion to decide the government’s stance on euthanasia for children. Some believe euthanasia for adults, but not children, is a breach of ethics. Others say children, like many adults, struggle with the concept and may not full understand the decision they are making.
“It often happens that when people get into the circumstances they had so feared earlier, they manage to cling on all the more,” Charles Foster from Oxford University told the Associated Press. “Children, like everyone else, may not be able to anticipate how much they will value their lives if they were not killed.”
In December 2013, deaf Belgian twins Marc and Eddy Verbessem decided on assisted suicide when they started to go blind. Even though euthanasia was legalized 10 years ago, the pair was a special case because they were not terminally ill.
The Court of Appeals in the U.K. recently denied euthanasia rights to two disabled men, who argued that the European Convention of Human Rights was being violated if doctors were not allowed to kill them. The British judge said euthanasia "raises profoundly sensitive questions about the nature of our society."
"It's a deep worldview if you accept that life isn't necessarily a good and death isn't necessarily a bad," John Brehany from the U.S. Catholic Medical Association told the Wall Street Journal. "A lot of people in the world aren't happy, and if death is one more option we lay out for them the world will look like a very different place."