Belgian Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard CNS photo/Benoit Doppagne Yorick Jansens, pool via Reuters

Next in Belgium: euthanasia for kids

By  Catholic News Service
  • December 1, 2013

BRUSSELS - As Brussels moves towards extending euthanasia to disabled children and adults with dementia, the president of the Belgian bishops’ conference has joined other faith leaders to warn that proposed legislation risks “destroying the functioning of society.”

Archbishop Andre Leonard said the bishops dislike to see suffering, “whether physical or moral,” but said he was “deeply alarmed” at recent developments.

“To suggest minors can decide on their own euthanasia is to falsify their power of judgment and their freedom,” he said in a joint statement with Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders. “To suggest persons with dementia can also be euthanized is to deny their dignity and hand them over to the arbitrary judgment of decision-makers.”

Belgium pioneered euthanasia for people over 18 in 2002. Last year, more than 1,400 deaths by euthanasia were reported. Some studies, however, suggest that many assisted deaths are unreported and many people are being euthanized who were not terminally ill.

Belgium’s ruling Socialist party now wants to make Belgium the first county to extend euthanasia to children. It has proposed a law that would permit lethal injections for children “if capable of discernment or affected by an incurable illness or suffering.” Opponents say, in essence, it is allowing children to request their own death.

Religious leaders said such a bill risked “the growing banalization of a very grave reality,” adding that they were “deeply alarmed . . . as citizens relying on philosophical arguments, and as believers inheriting our respective religious traditions.”

“Instead of supporting a suffering person and gathering persons and forces around to help them, we risk dividing these forces and isolating the suffering person, branding them guilty and condemning them to death,” said the statement.

At a Senate hearing, Leonard said, “It is strange that minors are considered legally incompetent in key areas, such as getting married, but might (be able) to decide to die.”

In an October survey, 75 per cent of Belgium’s 11 million inhabitants favoured allowing euthanasia for children who are in an irreversible coma or vegetative state, while 80 per cent supported it for dementia or Alzheimer patients facing “unbearable grief.”

In their statement, religious leaders said caregivers and medical practitioners would face pressure to accept euthanasia, while freedom of conscience and consent would lack effective safeguards.

The statement said all forms of suffering cause dismay, “but to prescribe euthanasia for vulnerable people radically contradicts their condition as human beings. We cannot enter into a logic which will lead to destruction of society’s very foundations.”

The province of Quebec has proposed to introduce euthanasia in Canada through legislation that passed in principle in October and is now in its final drafting stages before a final vote.

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