Euthanasia for minors or supporting them “to the very end”?

Publié le : 28 March 2014

 Almost twelve years ago, Belgium authorised euthanasia for adults. In February 2014, euthanasia for terminally ill minors was also adopted. In one article, the Pèlerin weekly newspaper endeavoured to understand this change in the legislation, comparing the Belgian situation to a French hospital that has decided to support adolescents right to the end.

Political scientist, Pascal Delwit, explains this trend by the fact that "since 2000, the Christian Democrats have not dominated the political scene. This reflects the recent lack of support for the Christian Democrats .[…] From now on, extremely secular parties linked to the Free Masons and advocating freedom of rights or socialist freedom are in the driving seat". From this point onwards, laments Father Eric de Beukelaer, Canon of Liège and blogger, "ultraliberal pragmatism has impacted upon social humanism. The individual is no longer viewed as an independent being who makes his/her own choices". 

According to Marie-Geneviève Pinsart, Vice-Chair of the Belgian Consultative Committee on Bioethics (CCBB), this new law "makes room for additional freedom. No-one is obliged to do anything. And it decriminalises under certain conditions, which is very different from issuing a licence to kill".
Nevertheless, conflicting voices are struggling to make themselves heard, as evidenced by the 200 out of 1,200 paediatricians across Belgium who signed a petition against the law or even Professor Eric Sariban, paediatric oncologist: "I followed up 84 young people with brain tumours right to the end. Not one of them made a request of this kind [i.e. request for euthanasia]. Because now we know how to break down this ‘intolerable suffering’ mentioned in the law". 
For others such as Child Psychiatrist, Philippe Van Meerbeeck, the frightening aspect is the absence of any age limit. This "freedom of choice without an age limit has nothing to do with children’s rights. The decision obviously lies with the parents and doctors," explained lawyers Etienne Dujardin and Drieu Godefrifi, founder of the Yellow Dossard Movement.

Whereas Belgium extends euthanasia to minors, some institutions choose to care for adolescents "until the end". The Coquelicot Unit at the Saint-Louis Hospital in Paris is one such institution.  Professor Nicolas Boissel, Head of the Dermatology Department for "Adolescents and Young Adults", explained, "I would say that our patients experience life up to the final minute". Cécile Perrier, Clinical Psychologist added: "The unit has been in existence for five years. We have never been asked to administer euthanasia or stop treatment". In this unit, the team is not allowed to say: "That’s it. There’s nothing more we can do". "When it’s no longer a case of administering strong chemotherapy or waiting for transplants, we focus on comfort and the wishes of our patients. Often the patients hear this message more clearly than their parents". 

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