According to one news report, the new law “allows minors to ask [to be killed] on the grounds that their illness is terminal, that they are in great pain and that there is no treatment to alleviate their distress…The Belgian legislation does not set an age limit but states that the patient has to be conscious of their situation and understand the meaning of a request for [a killing].”
Not to minimize the horror of illness, but the reasoning here is faulty. To say an illness is “terminal” is to claim that somebody has made an accurate prediction conditional on a complicated set of premises, predictions which are often phrased like this: “Given that everything continues in the same manner, the child will die in six to eight months.” Since the premises are themselves subject to great uncertainty (how many illnesses continue in the ‘same manner’?), the prediction usually has attached to it greater “plus-or-minuses” than is thought. In other words, forecasts of the demise of patients, especially children, are not always accurate, and doctors, particularly those too ready with the ax, are too confident of their own abilities. Doctors make many mistakes—and in the cases of “mercy” killing, they will be unrecoverable mistakes.
Even if doctors were infallible, it is still unclear whether there is no treatment to alleviate suffering. And this is because the “suffering”, as that term is used legally, is not restricted to pain but includes mental distress.
There is for example the case of “Nathan”, a woman who so wanted to pretend to be a man that she had a simulacrum of a man’s sexual organs grafted onto her body (the euphemism is “gender reassignment” surgery; this was in Belgium). Her body rejected the tissue which caused, or so she said, “unbearable psychological suffering.” Unbearable is that which cannot be born. She therefore was legally able to consult a man ready to kill, one Wim Distelmans, and this person killed “Nathan.” The killer told one newspaper “that the decision was made after six months of struggling with the issue and that it wasn’t easy.” The difficulty of the decision—heaven forfend it is easy—is offered as justification of the killing.
What does it mean to claim a child who is “eligible” for state-sponsored killing is “conscious of their situation” and “understands the meaning of a request” to be killed? It was until recently accepted that children were not entirely conscious of most situations beyond the playground, and therefore could not hope to understand what it meant to ask to be killed. No longer.
An open letter by Belgian “paediatricians” supporting the new law made an argument—which is in the running for Most Ludicrous Argument of the Year—said of children considering their illness, “minors develop very quickly a great maturity, to the point where they are often better able to reflect and express themselves on life than healthy people.” Heretofore, people, especially children, in great distress were generally reckoned not to be clear thinkers. Now it is claimed they reason more clearly than the unburdened.
Since “distress” can be mental, and because a child may put in a request for his own demise, and following the trend of decreasing parental “rights” (or control) over their own children in Enlightened countries, I make the following verifiable prediction. Within five years of the anniversary of this law, the state will have killed at least one child in opposition to its parents’ wishes or without their knowledge. “I’m sorry Mr and Mrs Peeters, we had to kill your son. We judged it best for everyone.” There will probably be court cases in which lawyers for the state argue for custody of the child in order that they might kill it (for its own good).
Scoff if you like, but there is already a certain amount of fishiness attending the legalization of the killing of adults, especially in the murky area of “permissions.” Consider that reports are that in “2012, Belgium recorded 1,432 cases of euthanasia — a 25% increase from 2011.”
Advice: if you ever have cause to vacation in Belgium and you feel yourself or your child “coming down with something”, whatever you do, don’t call a “doctor.”