Belgium’s move to allow euthanasia for terminally ill children is stretching the limits of freedom to a breaking point. Parliament passed the much debated bill yesterday that would let children suffering from incurable diseases exercise the right to die. There has been a mixed reaction to the decision within the country. The international press, however, unlike local media outlets, has gone into an overdrive over the decision.
Belgium has become the first country to pass such a law. Its next-door neighbour Netherlands allows children above 12 the right to euthanasia.
Euthanasia has been one of the most debated and divisive subjects being discussed in all societies. The right to die veers around the right to commit suicide, which is illegal in most parts of the world. The right to die under exceptional circumstances has got recent sanction in mainly western societies where the notion of rights and freedom is supreme to all other mores.
Euthanasia or the right to die gives an individual the power to decree his own fate. Terminal illness or other disease causing unbearable suffering may force a person to decide to quit the race of life. However, a sick person — and a seriously ill one at that — substantially loses the capacity to make a decision on the right to live. Distress, depression and frustration may significantly impair one’s ability to think evenly. A sick person may lose the capacity to realise that he is being self-centred, considering that his family members may need him more than he might think. In oriental societies, where family norms are highly valued, euthanasia is still frowned upon.
If it is hard for an adult in health-related distress to take a decision on the right to live, one can imagine how difficult it will be for a child of any age to do the same.
The European Union’s ban on capital punishment is driven by the fact that no one other than the giver of life has the right to take it. Therefore, how can anyone, especially a child decide if he has the right to live or not even though he might be severely ill and suffer from unbearable pain.
Proponents of children’s right to die in Belgium say that the law has inbuilt mechanisms to prevent misuse. The law says that the child should face “unbearable physical suffering” and make repeated requests to die before his wish is carried out. It is hard to define the term “unbearable physical suffering” for children. What is suitably bearable for one child may become unbearable for another. Asking for death may also become an attention seeking device for a kid.
Belgian lawmakers and the European Union of which Belgium is a member should rethink the law and rescind it.