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Child euthanasia debated in Belgium

Old 01-22-14, 03:06 PM
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Child euthanasia debated in Belgium

I don't know, to me this seems like a fairly horrific direction for modern society. I find the criteria of "mental or psychological suffering" to be pretty low. Apparently lots of progressives are on board with it, though.



Belgium divided on euthanasia for children

By Linda Pressly

BBC Radio 4, Belgium


Belgium legalised the right to euthanasia for adults in 2002. Now the Senate has voted to extend the law to children who are terminally ill, and suffering unbearable physical pain. Supporters believe this would be a logical move. Opponents say it is insanity.

An incurably sick child, a request to die, a lethal injection. For many people this is an unimaginable, nightmare scenario.

Most of us will not experience the cruel reality of seeing a child's health deteriorate as a result of a terminal illness. But some Belgian paediatricians who have say children should be allowed to ask to end their lives, if they cannot be relieved of their physical symptoms.

"Rarely - but it happens - there are children we try to treat but there is nothing we can do to make them better. Those children must have the right to decide about their own end of life," says Dr Gerlant van Berlaer, a paediatrician at UZ Hospital Brussels.

He and 16 other Belgian paediatricians signed an open letter in November petitioning senators to vote for the child euthanasia bill.

"We are not playing God - these are lives that will end anyway," argues Van Berlaer. "Their natural end might be miserable or very painful or horrifying, and they might have seen a lot of friends in institutions or hospitals die of the same disease. And if they say, 'I don't want to die this way, I want to do it my way,' and that is the only thing we can do for them as doctors, I think we should be able to do it."

Under the draft bill, passed in the Senate last month by 50 votes to 17, children must understand what euthanasia is, and their parents and medical teams have to approve the child's request to die.

In the Netherlands, Belgium's northern neighbour, euthanasia is legal for children over the age of 12, if they have the consent of their parents. But if the Belgian bill is passed in the lower house of parliament, Belgium will be the first nation in the world to lift all age restrictions.

Philippe Mahoux, leader of the Socialist group in the Senate and sponsor of the bill, has described it as "the ultimate gesture of humanity".

"The scandal is that children will die from disease," he says. "The scandal is not to try and avoid the pain of the children in that situation."

A senator who voted against the bill, Christian Democrat Els Van Hoof, thinks it is based on a misplaced idea of self-determination - that everyone has the right to make decisions not only about how they live, but also about how they die. She disagrees, and fought successfully, with a group of other senators, to restrict the scope of the bill to children with terminal illness suffering unbearable physical pain.

"In the beginning they presented a law that included mentally ill children," she says. "During the debate, supporters of euthanasia talked about children with anorexia, children who are tired of life - so how far does it go?"

In the case of adult euthanasia, she fears a "slippery slope" is already in evidence. The 2002 law governing euthanasia allows adults to choose to end their lives, if they:

* are competent and conscious
* repeatedly make the request
* are suffering unbearably - physically or mentally - as a result of a serious and incurable disorder

But two cases of euthanasia that hit the headlines in Belgium and internationally in 2013 left Van Hoof deeply troubled.

In January, the press reported on the deaths of identical twins of 45 who were deaf. Marc and Eddy Verbessem asked for euthanasia after finding out that they would go blind as a result of a genetic disorder - they feared they would no longer be able to live independently.

The death of Nathan Verhelst, a female-to-male transsexual, came nine months later. He asked to die after a series of failed sex-change operations.

Els Van Hoof has been advised by a lawyer that the twins probably did meet the criteria, as they had a serious illness. But the case of Nathan Verhelst still worries her.

It was Dr Wim Distelmans, an oncologist and palliative care specialist and professor at Brussels university VUB, who sanctioned the euthanasia of all three, on the grounds of psychological suffering. He is also the co-chair of the Euthanasia Commission, a panel of doctors, lawyers and interested parties that oversees the law - which, critics note, has not asked prosecutors to examine any of the 6,945 registered deaths by euthanasia in Belgium between 2002 and 2012. All cases are deemed to have been carried out within the law.




On 20 April 2012, Tom Mortier, a chemistry lecturer, got a message to call a Brussels hospital. His mother was dead. Godelieva De Troyer was 64 and had been suffering from depression. She had sent her son an email three months before she died telling him she had asked for euthanasia, but he did not think doctors would allow it.

He is enraged. He does not accept the argument that his mother had a "right to die".

"From my perspective this is not a law for patients, it's a law for doctors so they won't be prosecuted," Mortier says. "Performing euthanasia is unethical. It's killing your patients, and now they're promoting it as the ultimate form of love. What have we become here in Belgium? I don't understand it…"

And his reaction to the Senate vote on children and euthanasia?

"It's insanity."

Dr Marleen Renard, an oncologist responsible for paediatric palliative care at the University Hospital of Leuven, believes there is no need to legislate for child euthanasia, as there are already ways to end the suffering of a dying child.

"If we can't treat the pain, then we can sedate children. And if we see that the situation is really inhumane, we can go to our Ethics Committee and ask for permission to end life. But we have to have the consensus of a lot of people to do that."

For Renard, the critical point is that in her experience, children do not ask to die.

"I've seen a lot of young adolescents with very severe pain and symptoms. They always had some hope for the next day. I've never had one who told me, 'I can't do it any more, please stop it.' They don't want to die. They want to live."

But Dr Gerlant van Berlaer thinks that perhaps children do not ask to die because it is not legal.

"Whenever a child dies in hospital, the other children will talk among themselves," he says. "Often a child will not talk to you directly, but the other children will say, 'We have been discussing it and some of us think we should end our lives another way, different to the way we've seen our friends die.' Once the law changes, they will be able to ask us directly."

Are children really mature enough to make an end-of-life decision? Van Berlaer believes the experience of terminally ill children who spend most of their time with adults often makes them old beyond their years.

Feike van den Oever, a volunteer on the children's oncology ward at the University Hospital of Leuven, agrees children gain maturity when seriously ill. His son Laurens was eight when he died of cancer.

"From the conversations we had with him, you could see how a child starts thinking in a way that is not proper for his age," he says. "Children try to understand what is going on. Does that mean they gain competence to decide or request that kind of solution [euthanasia]? No. Not in my view."


No-one can tell how many children might ask to die if Belgium's euthanasia bill for children becomes law. For adults, the number of requests has increased year on year since 2002. About 80% of those who choose euthanasia have cancer.

"Those cancer patients who die of euthanasia, statistically as a group, live longer than those who die naturally," says Dr Jan Bernheim one of Belgium's early advocates for euthanasia, a pioneer of palliative care, and an oncologist. "Why? Because when it's been agreed that he or she will be able to ask for euthanasia, that reassures people. They know they are going to die well." Spared this anxiety, he says, their illness tends to proceed less quickly.

Bernheim supports the move to extend the right to die to children, and has administered lethal injections to adult patients who asked for euthanasia.

"Suffering trumps all other considerations," he says. "And the way these people die is very ceremonial, and often has some emotional beauty. Whereas, the patient who dies after two or three days of rattling, twitching and grunting, that's terrible…"

The death of a child is a tragedy. But should Belgian children have the right to ask to end their lives? Parliament is expected to decide early this year.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-25651758
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Old 01-22-14, 03:30 PM
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Re: Child euthanasia debated in Belgium

Surprised to see so many strong opinions about this. I would have expected more wafflers.
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Old 01-22-14, 03:34 PM
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Re: Child euthanasia debated in Belgium

Originally Posted by Groucho View Post
Surprised to see so many strong opinions about this. I would have expected more wafflers.
Yeah, it's not like this is a life-or-death issue or anything.
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Old 01-22-14, 03:37 PM
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Old 01-22-14, 04:21 PM
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Re: Child euthanasia debated in Belgium

Originally Posted by wendersfan View Post
Yeah, it's not like this is a life-or-death issue or anything.
When it comes to badly forced puns, you, sir, have ears of tin. Tin, I say!
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Old 01-22-14, 04:21 PM
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Re: Child euthanasia debated in Belgium

I'm fully for euthanasia for adults. I'd say no to children doing it on the basis that we already severely limit the rights of children, because we do not consider them fully competent in society. They don't have the perspective necessary to make this decision. But yeah, adults should be allowed to make that choice for themselves.
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Old 01-22-14, 04:21 PM
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Re: Child euthanasia debated in Belgium

Think of the children! Think of the Children! Don't think of what that individual child is feeling or thinking! Think about what I am thinking about the children!

God says no. God isn't real. On and on and on and on.
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Old 01-22-14, 04:29 PM
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Re: Child euthanasia debated in Belgium

Originally Posted by Supermallet View Post
I'm fully for euthanasia for adults. I'd say no to children doing it on the basis that we already severely limit the rights of children, because we do not consider them fully competent in society. They don't have the perspective necessary to make this decision. But yeah, adults should be allowed to make that choice for themselves.
The proposal does require the consent of their parents and their doctor.

I don't know. It's tough to think about a child choosing to end his life. But it's also tough to think of a child in pain due to an incurable disease that's going to kill him relatively soon anyway. I can see both sides of this.
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Old 01-22-14, 04:31 PM
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Re: Child euthanasia debated in Belgium

I understand that it requires the consent of the parents and doctor. Maybe you could make an argument for incurable physical conditions, but I'd say for anything mental, wait till the kid is at least of legal age to vote before letting them make that decision.
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Old 01-22-14, 04:35 PM
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Re: Child euthanasia debated in Belgium

Originally Posted by Supermallet View Post
but I'd say for anything mental, wait till the kid is at least of legal age to vote before letting them make that decision.
My first reaction is to say no, you can not die, but who the fuck am I to judge someone else's mental misery?
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Old 01-22-14, 04:39 PM
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Re: Child euthanasia debated in Belgium

As a teenager I spent several months at Stanford Children's Hospital. That place just brakes your heart. Most kids I was around, even the terminal ones, were pretty positive mentally. Even if this came to be legal, I don't see it practiced much.
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Old 01-22-14, 04:46 PM
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Re: Child euthanasia debated in Belgium

Originally Posted by JasonF View Post
The proposal does require the consent of their parents and their doctor.

I don't know. It's tough to think about a child choosing to end his life. But it's also tough to think of a child in pain due to an incurable disease that's going to kill him relatively soon anyway. I can see both sides of this.
Originally Posted by Navinabob View Post
As a teenager I spent several months at Stanford Children's Hospital. That place just brakes your heart. Most kids I was around, even the terminal ones, were pretty positive mentally. Even if this came to be legal, I don't see it practiced much.

Yeah, the one benefit of a child being very sick is that they don't really have a good frame of reference of being healthy. We adults tend to get more depressed because we remember the "good times" while for many children, this is all they know. Absolutely heartbreaking.

I don't have a problem with this. It is a terrible thing, but the fact is that we keep people alive beyond what nature intends, and easing suffering should be the main focus. Just has to be exercised very judiciously when you are talking about kids.
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Old 01-22-14, 04:48 PM
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Re: Child euthanasia debated in Belgium

Originally Posted by Navinabob View Post
As a teenager I spent several months at Stanford Children's Hospital. That place just brakes your heart. Most kids I was around, even the terminal ones, were pretty positive mentally. Even if this came to be legal, I don't see it practiced much.
The human spirit is tenacious. The desire to live is strong. Personally, I couldn't imagine losing it.
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Old 01-22-14, 04:55 PM
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Re: Child euthanasia debated in Belgium

For anyone who is interested, I highly recommend this documentary, Choosing to Die. The author Terry Pratchett (of Discworld fame) follows several people who are choosing to die, because he has Alzheimer's and isn't sure if he wants to go that route or not. It's a very powerful and IMO well-balanced documentary, with people coming down on all sides of the debate. Very much worth watching, although note that at the end it does show a man going through the process:

<iframe width="560" height="315" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/slZnfC-V1SY" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
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Old 01-22-14, 05:16 PM
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Re: Child euthanasia debated in Belgium

If they choose to die having sex with their teacher, is it still a crime?
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Old 01-22-14, 05:30 PM
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Re: Child euthanasia debated in Belgium

My concern with Euthanasia in general is that while the person may be willfully granting their consent, I worry about how much they're being pressured into it by various factors. An elderly or terminally ill person might feel that they're causing a major burden to their family or friends, and even though they don't want to die, they would essentially volunteer to out of a sense of obligation. Similarly, this sentiment might be subtly reinforced by particularly uncaring relatives who really DO want them gone, or by doctors or hospital officials who are worried about the bottom line and "wasting" time and resources on someone who isn't going to recover and become a productive member of society.

As an aside, the subject does come up in this panel discussion, and I think some good points are raised:

<object width="480" height="360"><param name="movie" value="//www.youtube.com/v/UsWtNyzRxGk?version=3&amp;hl=en_US"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="//www.youtube.com/v/UsWtNyzRxGk?version=3&amp;hl=en_US" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="480" height="360" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>
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Old 01-22-14, 06:14 PM
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Re: Child euthanasia debated in Belgium

Any system can be abused.
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Old 01-22-14, 06:30 PM
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Re: Child euthanasia debated in Belgium

then ban all systems, I say.
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Old 01-22-14, 06:40 PM
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Re: Child euthanasia debated in Belgium

I agree. Goodbye, vBulletin! God bless!
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Old 01-22-14, 06:51 PM
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Re: Child euthanasia debated in Belgium



Good day, sir!
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Old 01-22-14, 07:00 PM
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Re: Child euthanasia debated in Belgium

People suck and there are too many. If some want to kill themselves I'm fine with that.
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Old 01-22-14, 07:03 PM
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Re: Child euthanasia debated in Belgium

Originally Posted by kvrdave View Post


Good day, sir!
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Old 01-22-14, 07:16 PM
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Re: Child euthanasia debated in Belgium


The crime issss life. The sssssentence isss Death!
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Old 01-22-14, 07:17 PM
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Re: Child euthanasia debated in Belgium

Originally Posted by Supermallet View Post
I understand that it requires the consent of the parents and doctor. Maybe you could make an argument for incurable physical conditions, but I'd say for anything mental, wait till the kid is at least of legal age to vote before letting them make that decision.
That's kind of where I'm at with it as well. Children that have an incurable disease that is going to kill them and cause their final weeks to be full of immense pain, etc should have the ability to discuss it with their parents, doctor and make the decision to humanely end their life. I don't understand why people want to stop any and all instances where a person can make this decision for themselves. As long as they are competent to make the decision and it is done following strict guidelines and procedures, a person should be able to say "you know what, I don't want to spend the last month of my life sick in immense pain unable to function. I want to go with some dignity at the time I choose so that i can make my final goodbyes and preparations." People have no issue putting down a pet when they know the pet is suffering and in pain.
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Old 01-22-14, 07:19 PM
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Re: Child euthanasia debated in Belgium

for adults, I see this as a victimless crime.

for kids, it's a really tough call and I pray that I'll never have to consent to such a decision.
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