BRUSSELS (CNS) — Belgian legislators voted to make their country the world’s first to allow euthanasia for small children, despite vigorous opposition from the Catholic Church and all main religious groups.
“We are saddened and fearful for the future after this vote to extend euthanasia to children without any age limit,” said the Catholic bishops’ conference.
“We totally uphold the rights of the child, of which love and respect are the most important. But the right of the child to demand its own death is a step too far. It transgresses the prohibition of killing, which is the foundation of our human society,” the bishops said in a statement Feb. 13.
The same day, Belgium’s lower house of Parliament passed the legislation, which permits the doctor-assisted killing of terminally ill children facing “unbearable physical suffering.” The legislation passed the Senate late last year and must now go to the king for approval.
The bishops said they had frequently “expressed fears” about the proposed law, which had been unanimously deplored “with a single voice” by heads of all faiths in November.
They added that they shared the views of all those opposed to the law “as a function of their experience or expertise,” including medical experts who believed it was “useless and defective.”
“We fear this new law opens the door wide to the further extension of euthanasia to handicapped persons, people with dementia, the mentally ill and those merely tired of life,” the bishops said. “We insist everything is done to combat pain and suffering to the maximum, and that all professionals and volunteers accompanying the sick and suffering gain optimal support.”
Representatives voted 86-44 with 12 abstentions for the law, which requires children to be “conscious of their decision” after “repeated requests to die,” and to have approval from their parents and medical team.
However, Belgium’s Le Soir daily said the debate, which was marked by a pro-life vigil outside the Brussels Parliament, had been heated, adding that a public gallery spectator had shouted “Murderers!” as the result was announced.
The church’s Cathobel news agency said several members of Parliament had highlighted contradictions in the bill’s wording, including its provision that children as young as 3 could be allowed to die “if capable of discernment,” whereas a 17-year-old could be refused if psychiatrists disagreed.
The agency added that Health Minister Laurette Onckelinckx, a champion of the law, had “shocked colleagues” by failing to attend the debate.
“This merely underlines the emptiness of Belgium’s legislative process — why bother listening to the minister’s opinion if no expert has been consulted and all amendments have been swept aside?” the Catholic agency commented Feb. 13.
“Neither the truth nor the common good have been in evidence in this debate. Does this signal that Belgian society itself is ‘incapable of discernment’?”
Catholics nominally make up three-quarters of Belgium’s population of 11 million, although only one in 10 attends church.
Euthanasia was legalized in Belgium in 2002, a year after the neighboring Netherlands. Politicians and pediatricians said children should have the same right to die as adults.
Belgian Health Ministry data registered more than 1,400 deaths in 2012, an increase of 25 percent over 2011.
Although officially restricted to terminal patients, researchers say reasons for euthanasia have included blindness, anorexia and botched operations, while many are carried out illegally by nurses and at least a third are involuntary.
In a November open letter, 16 pediatricians backed the proposed bill, claiming children facing illness and death “develop a great maturity very rapidly.”
However, the claim was rejected by professors from the Catholic University of Leuven, as well as in an early February open letter by 160 pediatricians, who said modern medicine was “capable of alleviating pain.”
Several Belgian churches staged vigils against the law, including Brussels’ National Basilica of the Sacred Heart, where Archbishop Andre Leonard, the bishops’ conference president, led an ecumenical day of prayer and fasting Feb. 6.
Besides Belgium and the Netherlands, euthanasia and assisted suicide have been legalized in Luxembourg and declared “nonpunishable” in Switzerland and are under parliamentary consideration in Britain and France.
Most countries have resisted calls for euthanasia of sick children, which was conducted in Nazi Germany under a program known as Kinder-Euthanasie.
The Dutch law allows newborn babies with conditions such as spina bifida to be euthanized, under the 2004 Groningen Protocol, but restricts euthanasia requests to children over age 12.
Join the CatholicPhilly.com family
CatholicPhilly.com works to strengthen the connections between people, families and communities every day by delivering the news people need to know about the Catholic Church, especially in the Philadelphia region, and the world in which we live.
By your donation in any amount, you and hundreds of other people become part of our mission to inform, form in the Catholic faith and inspire the thousands of readers who visit every month.
Here is how you can help:
- A $100 gift allows us to present award-winning photos of Catholic life in our neighborhoods.
- A $50 gift enables us to cover a news event in a local parish, school or Catholic institution.
- A $20 gift lets us obtain solid faith formation resources that can deepen your spirituality and knowledge of the faith.
- A small, automated monthly donation means you can support us continually and easily.
Won't you consider making a gift today?
Please join in the church's vital mission of communications by offering a gift in whatever amount that you can ― a single gift of $40, $50, $100, or more, or a monthly donation. Your gift will strengthen the fabric of our entire Catholic community and sustain CatholicPhilly.com as your trusted news source. Thank you in advance!
Make your donation by credit card here:
Or make your donation by check:
222 N. 17th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103