The extension of euthanasia to minor in Belgium – will France follow suit?

Publié le : 29 November 2013

 Following the authorisation of euthanasia for adults in 2002, the debate is now focusing on minors. On Wednesday, 27 October, the Belgian Senate’s Justice and Social Affairs Commission adopted the draft bill aimed at legalising euthanasia for minors by 13 votes to 4. The conditions are as follows: recognition by a psychologist of the minor’s ability to make a sound judgement, the existence of intolerable, incurable physical suffering and the fact that the minor is in the terminal phase of his/her illness. Thus, minors can be “supported by a medical team and, with parental consent, can be given euthanasia in accordance with their wishes".      

Francis Delpérée, senator at the Humanist Democratic Centre (cdH), who agrees with the legalisation of euthanasia for adults, states on the lalibre.be website, that he was totally opposed to extending euthanasia to minors: "Can we reasonably ask a child at the end of his/her life to ask his father or mother who gave him/her life to take it away again? This will place a considerable psychological burden on children", he claimed. 
Where does France stand? Pierre-Olivier Arduin, Director of the Bioethics Commission of the Fréjus-Toulon Diocese emphasised the fact that "at the chequered scene depicting the end of life, the majority has decided to overturn the last moral pillar still in place in our society", namely, "the fundamental ban to intentionally allow a patient to die". He perceives three possible legislative options for the future French bill: the first would be to "mimic the mechanism in place in the Netherlands and Belgium since 2002", a model that has been "severely criticised by numerous scientific studies" and the source of numerous uncontrollable spin-offs. The second would take the form of assisted suicide which "has weaved its way into people’s minds ever since the report by the Sicard commission [December 2012] seemed to half-open the door to this approach" and which would allow a patient to obtain "a prescription for a ‘euthanasia kit’ from his/her doctor to self-administer at home". The third option to coin the words of P-O Arduin, "could win over many MPs loathe to broach the end of life question and confuse the French people even more": namely "palliative euthanasia(*), "a medical aid to ‘gently’ induce death, based on the knowledge of palliative care’ ".        
As far as P-O Arduin is concerned, if the "principle ordering doctors to assume the intention to kill" was recognised, it "would be fatally injuring medical deontology that has gone unchanged since the time of Hippocrates". 
 
* Véronique Fournier, Director of the Clinical Ethics Centre, Hôpital Cochin (release – 9 September 2013)

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