Threats to the sacredness of life surround us daily. So manifest are these threats that Bishop David Ricken has instituted, during intercessory prayers at Mass, a special petition for the sanctity of human life, “from the moment of conception to natural death.”
This petition became even more salient after learning that Belgium’s lower house of Parliament — following the Senate’s approval last December — passed a bill Feb. 13 that will make their country the first to allow euthanasia for terminally ill children without any age limit. The law will now go to Belgium’s King Philippe for approval.
In essence, a child who is suffering from cancer or any life-threatening illness can ask to be put to death. (The law also requires approval from parents and a medical team.)
The Catholic bishops of Belgium lamented the bill’s passage. The bishops’ conference has voiced outrage at the legislation since it was proposed in the Senate late last year.
“Instead of supporting a suffering person and gathering persons and forces around to help them, we risk dividing these forces and isolating the suffering person, branding them guilty and condemning them to death,” the bishops said in a joint statement with other Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders Nov. 6.
Euthanasia has been legal in Belgium since 2002. The Belgian Health Ministry recorded more than 1,400 deaths from euthanasia in 2012, which was a 25 percent increase over 2011. Expect these numbers to creep upward, with passage of the child euthanasia law. And don’t be surprised if the new law’s criteria — “unbearable physical suffering from terminal illness” — crosses over to non-terminal cases, such as children suffering from depression.
That’s because Belgium’s current euthanasia law, also restricted to terminally ill patients, is used on non-terminal patients, according to news reports. “Researchers say reasons for patients choosing euthanasia have included blindness, anorexia and botched operations,” Catholic News Service reported.
When Belgium’s Senate was debating the child euthanasia law last December, Sen. Philippe Mahoux voiced support for the legislation. “He said giving children the right to ‘die with dignity’ would be the ‘ultimate gesture of humanity,’” according to CNS.
Pain, suffering and terminal illness, especially when inflicted on children, are tragedies that no parent wants to experience. We would gladly trade places with a suffering child. But willfully terminating a young person’s life is not a natural response to this dilemma. It is not the “ultimate form of love” proponents of euthanasia paint it to be.
What seems to be missing from this debate is a focus on palliative care. Rather than seeking to ease suffering by terminating life, palliative care aims to improve the patient’s quality of life with options for controlling pain and supporting the family in its decisions. It is not a perfect choice, but it is a moral choice. Palliative care has been called a “natural extension of the work of Catholic health care” because of its outlook on the dignity of life. Euthanasia, on the other hand, takes a sterile approach to addressing illness.
Another unknown in Belgium’s euthanasia law is a parent’s mental state days and years after agreeing to allow a child to be put to death. How will they cope with this decision?
Next time you’re at Mass and hear the special intercession on the sanctity of life, offer up prayers for the children of Belgium, where the sacredness of life has suffered a major setback.