In a law passed in Belgium’s parliament yesterday, the country has become the first to legalize the euthanasia of minors, drawing widespread opposition from its citizens, and from Church leaders.
“The law says adolescents cannot make important decisions on economic or emotional issues, but suddenly they've become able to decide that someone should make them die,” Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard stressed.
Archbishop Leonard oversees the diocese of Brussels, and is head of the Catholic Church in Belgium, and made his comment during a prayer vigil held last week opposing the legislation, BBC News reports.
Belgium’s parliament voted on Feb. 13 in favor of passing a bill which allows euthanasia for terminally ill children without any age limit by an 86 to 44 vote with 12 abstentions, and will officially become the first country in the world to remove any age limit on the practice once the bill is signed by Belgian King Phillipe.
Under the new bill, euthanasia may be requested by terminally ill children who “are in great pain,” but the law requirements state that they must be conscious of their decision, the illness must be terminal and their pain must be unbearable with no treatment available to alleviate it.
However, in order for the euthanasia to be approved, the patient must have parental consent, and parents, doctors and psychiatrists would have to agree before a final decision is made.
BBC reports that protestors have been lobbying politicians against the legislation, and many consider the bill to be immoral, including many pediatricians who warned that a vulnerable child might be put at risk.
In an open letter signed by 160 Belgian pediatricians last week opposing the law, they questioned whether or not a child can be expected to make such a difficult decision, and claimed that there is no urgent need for the law, and that modern-day medicine is capable of alleviating pain.
Despite the fact that polls within the country show a broad support for the bill, the International New York Times stated that the lay Community of Sant’Egidio have voiced that expanding the legal right to euthanasia would be “opening the door to a new kind of barbarism.”
The community, reports the Times, expressed their grave concern that those who are sick, particularly the young, might choose to die out of the fear of burdening others.
The Netherlands was the first to legalize euthanasia in 2002, allowing for its use only in special cases for gravely ill patients who are 12 years or older, and remains one of the few European countries that allows for it, whereas it is largely banned in the United States, with only five states allowing for “assisted dying.”
However, the idea of euthanasia for children is vastly considered to be “morally repugnant” in many European countries, the Times states, and is a perspective largely driven by the recollection of the Nazis, who killed thousands of children they considered to be either mentally or physically impaired.