We think children don't have full facilities to make adult decisions. That is why they are considered minors. We see children make bad decisions about their lives that we think, as adults, they wouldn't do. —Dr. Paul Wolpe
A bill that would legalize euthanasia for children in Belgium is generating reaction for and against the practice while Belgians await for their king to sign the legislation, according to multiple news sources.
The bill would allow those under 18 years of age — the current age of consent — to choose to die. The New York Times reports that euthanasia would only be permissible if approved by three doctors, the parents of the child and the child must prove that they understand and approve the decision.
According to CNN, children too young to communicate would not be able to give consent for the process.
"Mother Linda van Roy, from Schilde, Belgium, is among those backing the bill. She could do nothing to help her terminally ill baby, Ella-Louise, in the last hours of her life," CNN reported. "Ella-Louise, who was 10 months old when she died just over two years ago, would never have qualified for euthanasia."
In an interview with NPR, Els Van Hoof, a senator with the Flemish Christian Democratic party, opposed the bill, saying that children don't understand the choice they are making if they choose to be euthanized.
"They can't (legally) drink before they're 16. They can't smoke before they're 16. They can't vote before they're 18. They can't marry before they're 18. They can't be punished because they don't have the competence. But when they talk about life and death, they can decide? It's not coherent," she said to NPR.
In an interview with Time magazine, Dr. Stefaan Van Gool, a pediatrician at the University of Leuven, echoed Van Hoof's sentiments and also expressed concern that children without the desire to be euthanized could be pressured into making the decision by doctors or their parents.
The law, Van Gool said, would leave too many opportunities for the law to be abused, so doctors should worry more about helping children that are suffering in different ways.
“We are suffering together with these children to get through the most difficult moments of life, but at such time what we deliver to these children is care,” said Van Gool.
Supporters of the bill, like neonatal pediatrician Olivia Williams, who works in Brussels, doesn't believe the law will be used often, but is adamant that some children deserve to have the choice that adults get.
"I've seen children ask to die," she said to NPR, "children with terminal cancer, suffering, children who refuse another operation that might give them another three months. They ask to die; they don't want it. Not all of them, but (it does happen.)"
Some experts don't believe a similar law will ever be passed in the U.S. anytime soon.
"We think children don’t have full facilities to make adult decisions," said Dr. Paul Wolpe, professor of bioethics and director of the Center for Ethics at Emory University, told Religion News Service. "That is why they are considered minors. We see children make bad decisions about their lives that we think, as adults, they wouldn’t do,"