The Belgium Parliament has passed a highly controversial law allowing for the killing of children and patients with Dementia and Alzheimer’s. The Bill was passed on Friday 14 February by 86 to 44 with 12 abstentions. Belgium now becomes the first country to allow for sick children to be killed. Public opinion polls revealed that the Bill had the support of 75 per cent of the population of Belgium. Doctors are now permitted to kill their child patients if the child is in unbearable pain, is in a terminal condition, has requested it repeatedly, has parental consent, has been seen by a psychiatrist and a psychologist and the killing is approved by the patients doctor. Doctors kill their patients with a lethal injection.
A palliative care nurse, who had cared for 200 dying children, gave evidence that she had never had a child ask for their life to be terminated.
The Bill had the support of the Greens, the Socialists and was opposed by the Christian Democrats. Those who promoted the law said that this now legalises what is already being done. Dr Philippe Mahoux author of the 2002 Euthanasia legislation “Right to Die” in support of it said that the bill was “the ultimate gesture of humanity” and removed the discrimination against a “child’s right to die”.
The Bill was opposed by religious leaders. The leader of the Catholic Church in Belgium, Andre Leonard, led days of prayer and fasting. The Bishops warned that the Bill was a step too far, and said “the legislation would open the way to handicapped people, people with dementia, the mentally ill or those who are tired of living, to seek mercy killing.” A group of 160 paediatricians sent an open letter to Parliament opposing the Bill stating that with the advances in palliative care, no child or person needs to die in agony. A palliative care nurse, who had cared for 200 dying children, gave evidence that she had never had a child ask for their life to be terminated, but that she had been asked by many parents for that to happen, because they did not want their child to suffer.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe passed a resolution denouncing the legislation. The declaration stated, “ Euthanasia must always be prohibited, it betrays some of the most vulnerable children in Belgium by accepting that their lives may no longer have any inherent value or worth and that they should die. It promotes the belief that a life can be unworthy of life which challenges the very basis of civilised society.” The Assembly also said that the Belgian law "mistakenly assumes that children are able to give appropriate informed consent to euthanasia and that they can understand the grave meaning and complex consequences associated with such a decision".
This legislation is a threat to the right to life of those with dementia and Alzheimer’s. When an elderly person goes into care, how can they be sure that those appointed to look after them will not kill them?
With care being very costly, there will be great pressure to kill the patient rather than to provide care. Supporters of the Bill said that “Euthanasia was part of good palliative care.” How can it be?
This legislation is immoral and a violation of the inalienable right to life. It is a withdrawal of the unconditional love that we should have for our children. The killing of children is a further acceptance of a culture of death. It means that paediatricians supposedly dedicated to the care of children will now have another treatment option; the killing of their patient. A Study published in 2010 in the British Medical Journal revealed that only 52.8 per cent of euthanasia cases in Belgium were reported. A Canadian Medical Association study conducted in Flanders in 2010, found that 32 per cent of patients who had been killed by their doctor were not requested or consented to by the patient.
It is 70 years since Nazi Germany introduced the T4 Euthanasia programme. It started off with small beginnings, the killing of a disabled child on Hitler’s orders in September 1939 culminated in the killing of 250,000 German patients in asylums and hospitals. Included in this figure are 5000 to 8,000 disabled children. Hitler said,”the cost of keeping them alive in hospitals and asylums was too great.”
The passing of this contentious legislation is a warning for New Zealand. Marion Street Labour MP has drafted a bill entitled “End of life choices bill” which if passed would allow doctors to kill their patients or assist in their suicide. Marion Street supports doctors being permitted to kill their child patients but withdrew this Private Members Bill from the ballot box towards the end of last year but we understand she intends to re submit it following the election. Her Bill is a threat to the elderly, the sick and the disabled. We should resist it with all our strength.