So, Belgium was quite the centre of worldwide news attention. That doesn’t happen every week (or month).
Belgium got that international media attention last week because a law was passed that is seen as very controversial abroad. My boyfriend even told me it was the main item on the BBC evening news. I’m talking about the law for euthanasia for minors of course, or euthanasia for children, as they tend to write in foreign media.
Firstly in short: what does this new law entail exactly? It means that children under the age of 18 can ask for euthanasia when they are suffering unbearably (physically) and there is no prospect of improvement. When they do, they have to be examined by a psychiatrist or psychologist to determine whether they are capable of making such a decision and their parents have to give their consent. The Netherlands have had a similar law in place since 2002, with the difference that they have set a minimum age of 12.
“A culture of death”
Even though the law is widely supported by the Belgian population (according to a study, 75 percent is in favour of the law) it is frowned upon (to say the least) abroad. “A culture of death” is what CBN (unsurprisingly given it’s the Christian Broadcasting Network) and Fox News call it. The Fox journalist even manages to make a link with Hitler’s Third Reich, Mao’s China and Stalin’s Russia (as in: this is what euthanasia in combination with Obamacare could lead to in the US. A pretty wild, and equally ridiculous, drift off if you ask me). I think what they tend to overlook is that it’s only the child that can ask for euthanasia (and has to go through a long procedure to prevent abuse) and no one else. No one is going to kill off disabled children in Belgium, and the suggestion of that in itself is pretty insulting.
Apart from the mostly very emotional or religious outrage, I found another argument against the law that I found quite interesting (interesting in the way that it shows how different people’s views can be on things, I don’t agree with it). Eugene Kontorovich, professor at Northwestern University School of Law, wrote in an opinion piece for The Washington Post that he finds it strange that a country that condemns the death penalty for minors allows euthanasia for “innocent children”. I personally find it strange to even compare the two. To be in favour of the death penalty you have to believe that when individuals commit certain crimes this gives society the right to take their lives, while euthanasia is about giving people the right to decide about the end of their own lives (and only in very strict conditions, especially for children). I think these two ideas are so different that being an advocate for the one doesn’t at all mean you can’t be an opponent of the other. On another note: isn’t it funny that life isn’t so sacred anymore when it’s taken away in punishment.
As you may have gathered, like the majority of Belgians, I am glad this law got voted through. Freedom is a word that gets thrown around a lot in political discussions. I personally find that having the right to say “enough is enough” when it comes to your own life is the most basic form of freedom out there. I also believe unbearable pain is as horrible for children or minors as it is for adults.
Belgium might not be the world’s leader when it comes to Olympic Medals or space exploration, but I think it’s fair to say that we are amongst the most ethically progressive countries there are. Maybe the rest of the world will think Belgium is morally inferior for ever or maybe they’re just not ready yet. In any case, I’m proud that we are.