– By Christina (Rosie) Bauder
Belgium passed a bill on February 13th that would allow terminally ill children to be euthanized “if they are in unbearable pain and treatment options are exhausted”. They would be eligible to end their lives if the medical team agreed that no further measures would alleviate pain or improve the quality of life and the parent or guardian consented. Belgians over the age of 18 have had the right to euthanasia since 2002, along with the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Not only is euthanasia legal for children under the 18 in the Netherlands, it is now being considered for anyone over the age of 70 who is “tired of living”.
Euthanasia is deeply stigmatized in most countries, but it is a topic that is more than luke-warm in Belgium following similar legislation. Belgium also allows a medical procedure call palliative sedation, or administering lethal amounts of pain medication to a patient. This type of euthanasia is active, meaning the doctor administers medication to hasten the patient’s death. Doctor-assisted suicide, in contrast, is when people are given medication from their physician to administer themselves. Passive euthanasia is when a person refuses life-sustaining medical treatment from a physician in an effort to hasten one’s death. Passive euthanasia tends to be less controversial2. It is less controversial beause the doctor is not directly prescribing fatal doses of medication, rather they are omitting treatment, which can occur outside in a setting other than the hospital.
In most countries a person is an adult at age 18, but neuroscientists agree that full brain maturity isn’t reached until well into one’s twenties. Neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt says that even the critical parts of decision-making are not completely developed until 25. It seems counterintuitive that there are laws forbidding consumption of alcohol or tobacco products, marrying, or enlisting in the military, even voting until a certain age. Are children just as capable as adults when making an important decision such as life or death?
This law continues the slippery slope argument about legislation on euthanasia and assisted suicide to follow in not only Belgium, but also other countries. Typically, slippery slope discussions on euthanasia lead to questions on the permissiveness of euthanasia for patients whose diagnosis is not life threatening or untreatable. Would this lead to euthanasia rights for patients with only moderate pain, or for children whose diagnosis is not terminal? Would it apply to those who do not have visible signs of pain, but mental illness? When it comes to Belgian children, doctors would not be allowed to carry out the euthanasia unless the parents or guardians of the child consented as well. That still leaves adults, especially young adults who are still developing from 18-25 years old, who could be vulnerable to the choice of euthanasia who do not need consent from another party outside of their physician.
The suffering of children globally is disheartening; it is equally saddening to imagine that a child’s quality of life is so unlivable, that they would choose to end their life through euthanasia. Elective euthanasia degrades the innocence of children and puts a child in a position to grow up and make a severe decision, when they should not have to think about dying, rather what their favorite game is. One can hope that the use of legal euthanasia for terminally ill children is not needed, and that doctors and guardians are able to exhaust all efforts to save and improve the lives of children.
 Schultz, Teri. “Belgian Proposal: Terminally Ill Kids Could Choose Euthanasia.” NPR. NPR, 13 Feb. 2014. Web. 13 Feb. 2014.
 National Center for Biotechnology Information. National Institute of Health, 18 Apr. 2011. Web. 13 Feb. 2014.
 Cox, Tony. “Brain Maturity Extends Well Beyond Teen Years.” NPR. NPR, 10 Oct. 2011. Web. 11 Feb. 2014.