Belgium’s first mercy killing of minor

Belgium’s first mercy killing of minorThe subject of euthanasia or mercy killing has been one that has been traditionally debated the world over since times immemorial; but, it has been accompanied with much bitterness while the debate  keeps getting discussed at all levels with legal experts, medical experts and  the watchdogs of society getting dragged in and wrestling with this tricky subject since ages.

Under that scenario comes the news that the first case of euthanizing a human in Belgium has just been performed; the information coming in states that the age restrictions that are imposed by the authorities and the courts are often a hurdle to this practice being implemented.

In Belgium however, the limits of age restricting the enforcement of Euthanasia were abolished in 2014; yet, there was a lot of rethinking and hesitation in the minds of all the concerned parties, including relatives that somehow kept delaying such cases.

One only hopes that this case breaks the ice for all those in whose case the practice of Euthanasia is desirable and recommended by all.

Finally, the news came in last Saturday that a minor, aged 17 years was the first case of euthanizing of a minor in Belgium; this was announced by a member of the Federal euthanasia commission of the country, Jaqueline Herremans on Saturday.

It was also disclosed by her that the euthanizing of the 17-year old minor was conducted strictly under the laws of Belgium governing such practices.

Legal provisions

The detailed information regarding the identity of the child and her family’s identity is never disclosed due to ethical reasons and in accordance with the requirements under laws governing Euthanasia; it was explained by the Head of the Federal Euthanasia Commission of Belgium that there are specified penalties for contravening the provisions of laws that are prepared, implemented and monitored very strictly to ensure that:

  • It is used as a last resort and in exceptional cases only by giving sufficient time and thought to the idea and following expert opinions, and
  • There is no casual case in which it may be discovered later that there was another option that was overlooked.

In this case, Wim Distelmans, chief  of the euthanasia commission of Belgium, just explained that this case involved a terminally-ill child and the condition of the patient was exceptionally bad. Otherwise, an effort to find some alternative to assisted dying is always given its due importance.

No other details were divulged except saying that the deed was done. The mention on the VRT public television was limited in saying that this incident pertains to an adolescent that was just short of attaining the age of 18.

Distelmans went on to add that, in the case of children who were proposed or processed for euthanasia, his opinion was that it was not justified to deprive them from dying a dignified death thus alleviating their unceasing struggle and pain.

This dilemma about permitting assisted death in the case of small children was brought to a head in 2014 . That was when the government of Belgium took a serious look at the issue of Euthanasia and decided to permit the practice in the case of children of any age under the following conditions:

  • The child is terminally ill,
  • The suffering is unbearable,
  • The child should be conscious, and
  • The child should be capable of making a rational choice.

The other country that allows mercy killings of terminally-ill minors is the Netherlands but they have stipulated a minimum age limit of 12 years.

Strict monitoring

As expected, the debate on permitting mercy killing euthanasia was long, heated, and closely-fought. While every word was analyzed threadbare with all the interpretations differing from each other, the bones of contention were words like capacity of discernment which added a lot of sparks to the debate.

Finally, the amendment was passed by the authorities with the provision that the bill permitted to explore the possibility of euthanasia to children:

  • Who were in a situation of extreme suffering,
  • The medical opinion considered the case as hopeless, and
  • The death will be quick and painless giving true meaning to mercy killing,
  • The request should come from the minor,
  • An independent psychologist or psychiatrist’s opinion is a must, and
  • The parents should give their express consent to the euthanasia or mercy killing.

The legislation provided that the term psychological suffering  would not be applicable in the case of children but would continue to be applicable to adults; the vote by the legislature was passed conclusively with 86 in favor and 44 against; this was quite an achievement for the advocates of euthanasia considering that the population of Belgium is predominantly catholic.

The process has the approval of a majority of the citizens but the applications have not been allowed except in this case. This was because, as Distelmans stated, after 2002 when this practice was allowed in Belgium and Netherlands, Luxembourg also followed suit in 2009 but minors were not included.

Switzerland did not legalize euthanasia as such, but doctors there may assist their patient to die.

Umrao singh                                                                

Written for:  Lars-Magnus Carlsson                

Monday, 19 September 2016