BELGIUM — The first child in Belgium has been euthanized since the passage of a law removing age restrictions on when doctors may end the lives of terminally-ill patients at their request.
Sen. Jean-Jacques De Gucht, who wrote the law passed in 2014, confirmed the death of the child to reporters this week. While he did not provide many details, he said that the physician-assisted suicide took place last week after the youth requested euthanasia, and that the minor was from the Flemish region of Belgium.
The name and age of the child are not known.
De Gucht expressed thankfulness that the country’s option to die now applies to sick children.
“It’s terrible when a youngster suffers, but it gives me some comfort to know that now there is a choice out there for children in the final terminal stages,” he told the Associated Press. “It’s important that society doesn’t neglect people in such pain.”
Belgium legalized euthanasia in 2002, but a provision allowing for the inclusion of minors was removed following uproar. The law consequently set the age limit at 18.
But in 2014, De Gucht proposed language that would do away with age restrictions, and was successful in his bid. The law now requires that the child be in the final stages of the terminal illness, understand the meaning of death versus life and have requested to die more than once. The parents must also provide consent, as well as two doctors, including a psychiatrist.
“This can only be in cases of serious and incurable diseases, which is the same thing for adults … but for minors an additional condition is that the death must be expected in the near future,” Jacqueline Herremans, the president of Belgium’s Association for the Right to Die with Dignity, told RTBF Radio.
However, others have expressed deep concern over the development.
“Ultimately this is a triumph for out-and-out nihilism, not just Belgium’s inventive euthanasia lobby. Nihilism is a philosophical fad which seems to catching on in the world of bioethics,” wrote Michael Cook of Mercatornet. “If I’m right, euthanizing a child is not a terminus for Belgian euthanasia, but just a bus stop en route to pure nihilism. What its supporters are trying to eliminate is not just pain, but life itself. ”
“Means of alleviating pain are widespread in Belgium within present medical scope, far more so than in most other countries. No patient, no child therefore, need suffer nowadays,” the blog NoEuthanasia.org also outlined prior to the passage of the law.
“As of today we are perfectly capable of controlling physical pain, smothering or anguish in the throes of death,” it explained. “Established palliative care teams for children are fully able to relieve pain, whether in hospital or at home.”
Dutch Professor Eduard Verhagen told the NLTimes this week that he believes a similar situation will unfold in Holland, and that a child euthanasia center will not be far off for the country.