Why Belgium’s vote for child euthanasia should grieve us all

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Joni Eareckson Tada, writing for Time on the decision to allow euthanasia for terminally ill children in Belgium:

“The law can be interpreted to include many medical conditions, and as a quadriplegic advocate for persons with disabilities, this alarms me. Children in all cultures tend to approach adults in authority with trust. They look to us for comfort, advice, and support. To have an adult in authority approach them and suggest euthanasia as an alternative to life is swinging the compassion pendulum to the outer edges of horror.

It should be in our nature as adults to protect our young. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child serves as our global monitor to safeguard children – especially boys and girls who suffer from illnesses or disabilities. Article 5 states, “[The child] has a right to special care if handicapped in any way.”

Is “special care” now three grams of Phenobarbital in the veins if that child despairs of his handicapping condition? I don’t understand how civilized society can defend the right to life of a child with a serious medical condition while abandoning that child at his greatest point of need.

We have long held that children do not have the cognitive ability to make adult decisions; this is why they are considered minors. We limit a minor’s decision on tobacco, drugs, and alcohol until they are adults; yet somehow Belgium believes that a minor can make a decision about taking his or her own life.

Giving little ones a choice usually means that they make decisions based on what they think their families want to hear. When it comes to a choice to die, that’s a terrible burden to place on a child. Boys and girls do not take into account the future; they cannot project what life might be like with a permanent disability or a long-term illness. We adults understand how our decisions impact the future, and we understand that we need to teach this skill to our children. It’s distressing that a life-or-death choice is being granted to young ones who haven’t yet learned this critical life skill.

So, yes, we are outraged by the Belgian Parliament’s decision, and I pray that we never become so calloused in this country as to allow our children to opt for death over their personal hardship. Neither we – nor the suffering child – can fully understand all that is at play in one’s life or in a family who strives to find positive meaning in pain, and we should never be in a position to play God and determine who lives and who dies.

However, before I hold our society up as more righteous than Belgium, I am reminded of a situation in which we are allowing our children to be killed, based on an unknowable prediction of perceived suffering.

An estimated 92% of all women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome choose to terminate their pregnancies. People’s fears of disability – of the perceived suffering it might cause – has created a genocide among an entire population of individuals who, for the most part, are characterized as joyful and loving. But no matter; someone has deemed life with Down syndrome not worth living.

So while we can rightfully condemn Belgium’s decision, our own judgment turns and devours us. Our selfish desires and fears of disability have led our own culture to choose a similar transgression, condemning the “defective” unborn to die, without giving them any say in the matter. At least Belgium gives their children a vote.”

Read the whole article here.

HT: Trevin Wax

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