Pro-Lifers have long warned of the slippery slope inherent in assisted suicide legislation. The latest devastating example of this reality comes from Belgium, where three children were killed by euthanasia between 2016 and 2017. Belgium first legalized assisted suicide in 2002. In 2014, Belgium allowed children to die by euthanasia; the controversial law passed despite significant pushback by many groups and individuals concerned with child welfare, including the American College of Pediatrics.
The first child to die by euthanasia was killed in 2016. The unidentified individual had an “incurable disease,” and requested euthanasia. The latest report from Belgium’s federal control and evaluation committee shows that two other unidentified children died by euthanasia in 2017. The report also shows an overall increase in euthanasia of 13%.
Although assisted suicide is portrayed by anti-Life media as giving terminally ill patients “autonomy” and “death with dignity,” the reality is quite the opposite. Studies show that adult patients seeking assisted suicide do so not for the pain of incurable, terminal illness but because of feelings of despair and hopelessness. Patients seek euthanasia due to depression, not the condition that makes them eligible under the law for assisted suicide. We would never advocate that depressed children be offered euthanasia, so why would we allow medically vulnerable children who are depressed to be killed by euthanasia?
Belgium is one of very few countries, like the Netherlands, that has progressively expansive assisted suicide laws. Among adults, cases of assisted suicide have expanded to include patients suffering from depression, anorexia, or simply being born with autism. Now that assisted suicide is available to children, we can reasonably expect a similar path of devolution.
The Netherlands also had at least one documented case of a woman being euthanized against her will. The Belgium law allowing for euthanasia of minors requires children to “understand” what euthanasia is, but how can a child give informed consent to such a monumental decision? Children are more vulnerable to coercion and misunderstanding in life-and-death decisions than adults. If legal killing has already led to involuntary euthanasia in adults, we cannot expect anything less in assisted suicide for children.
Another devastating reality of legal assisted suicide is the financial coercion that often follows. In places where assisted suicide is legal, insurance or state-run health care systems are incentivized to offer a lethal injection or bottle of pills instead of paying for often costly treatment. This pressure could be particularly acute for children who may be facing a lifetime of disability that will involve ongoing medical care. The cost of that care should never be a reason to kill children. However, the reality is, in a state that allows assisted suicide such killing could easily seem justified.
The expansion of assisted suicide to children in Belgium should be a clear warning to the rest of the world that state-sanctioned killing of any persons threatens all human lives. When we begin to make value judgements about whom should receive medical care and whom should be offered death, all lives are at risk. The three children killed in Belgium may only be the beginning.