The issue of euthanasia has always been fuzzy, and there are strong arguments for both sides of the debate.
But while most open-minded people today believe in the right of terminally ill, mentally stable adults to choose their time and manner of death, society crosses over onto a very slippery slope when the right to die is extended to minors.
Belgium, which, along with the Netherlands, has been the bellwether in permitting terminally ill or incurably ill adults to request and receive euthanasia from a doctor, has now crossed that line.
In February 2014, the Belgian parliament amended the provision in the country’s euthanasia law that restricted the right to assisted death to adults.
But it was not until mid-September of last year that the new ruling was actually implemented, when a terminally ill teenager was euthanized in Brussels.
Very little information has been released about the minor, but what has been reported is that he was 17-years-old and suffered from an extremely painful and incurable terminal condition.
Belgium has several legal safety nets implemented to protect minors who choose to be euthanized.
In accordance with Belgium’s euthanasia regulations, a patient must be a “demonstrable capacity for rational decision-making,” which — in theory, anyway — would exclude very young children from the law’s scope.
Moreover, the request must be examined by a team of doctors and a psychiatrist or psychologist, and it must be approved by the minor’s parents.
The minor has to be “in a hopeless medical situation of constant and unbearable suffering that cannot be eased and which will cause death in the short term.”
Those assurances are all well and good, and most probably, the euthanasia of the Belgian teen was an act of mercy, but there are still several factors that must be considered.
To begin with, according to the International Association of Forensic Mental Health Services (IAFMHS) and most neurologists around the world, the adolescent brain is not fully mature.
Science has shown that the frontal lobes of the human brain — which are crucial in developing rational thought, pragmatic judgement and a sense of self-preservation — do not reach full capacity until a person is in their mid-20s. (This is why teenagers and young adults are more prone to impulsive and often risky behavior, and why many auto insurance companies around the world charge higher premiums for drivers under the age of 25.)
Given that fact alone, there should be serious reserve when considering granting the right to die to a minor, who may not fully understand the consequences of such a decision.
Moreover, there is the possibility of a child choosing an end-of-life solution simply because he or she feels that it is what their parents want.
Even in the case of adults, there have been incidences where terminally ill patients have stated that they chose to end their lives so as not to put financial, emotional or care burden upon others.
A vulnerable child, who is both emotionally and economically dependent on his or her family, could easily feel pressured to end their life.
And, lastly, there is the issue of possible peer pressure from other minors, who could be bullying or emotionally bettering an ill child to choose euthanasia.
We have already seen the disturbing surge in teen suicide due to bullying (particularly against gay youth), and making it easier for a minor to choose death is clearly a counterintuitive option.
Granted, age limit are always to some extent arbitrary, and a child’s chronological age and mental age can diverge greatly.
But there are, in most societies, age requirements for such matters as voting, obtaining a driving license and having sexual relations.
It seems reasonable, then, to impose comparable age restrictions on the right to die.
Sadly, we have moved into a treacherous culture of death.
Simply put, dying is now in fashion, and, for some, at least, euthanasia is the trendiest way to go.
Today, euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Columbia.
Assisted suicide is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Germany, Canada and in the U.S. states of Oregon, Washington, Vermont and Montana.
In Belgium alone, almost 5 percent of all deaths in 2015 were by euthanasia.
Belgium is the first and only country so far to allow euthanasia at any age (although in the Netherlands, 16-year-olds are considered adults and are consequently granted the right to euthanasia).
The right to die should be universal for all mentally sound adults, but when it comes to legally executing children, there should be major restrictions.
Euthanasia should be limited to adults.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected]