About 10 years after a law legalizing adult euthanasia was passed in Belgium, the country voted on Thursday to expand the same “right-to-die” legislation to terminally ill children of any age.
The legal definition of “euthanasia” is the painless killing of a person by a lethal dose of medication administered by a third party, such as a doctor or nurse. In “assisted suicide”, the person self-administers the medication as well as take an active role in planning. The law passed with overwhelming support for a child patient to choose euthanasia.
“This is not about lethal injections for children. This is about terminally ill children, whose death is imminent and who suffer greatly,” Carina Van Cauter, a lawmaker for the Flemish Liberal Democrats who back the law, said to Times of India.
The law did not come without opposition. In a rare joint effort, Muslim, Christian, and Jewish leaders denounced the law before the vote was taken. About 160 physicians had also signed a petition against the proposed bill.
Euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland, and France will also be considering legislation. The Dutch also allow minors as young as 12 to make the decision. However, since the law went into effect in 2002, only five children chose the option in a country where 2,000 to 4 ,000 choose to die each year. Belgium, which will be the first country without an age limit, may expect a similar tiny ratio.
In the United States, assisted suicide is legal in Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington state, while euthanasia is illegal in all states. The closest standard available is the Do-Not-Resuscitate order administered in many hospitals around the country; but there have been a few controversial cases that have questioned decisions made to end a life. Most notably, the recent Jahi McMath case, after the 13-year-old girl entered a California hospital for a routine surgery, but ended up brain dead and on life-support.
S.C. Rhyne is a blogger and novelist in New York City. Follow the author on twitter @ReporterandGirl or on Facebook.com/TheReporterandTheGirl and visit her website at www.SCRhyne.com