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Belgium is on the brink of legalising the death penalty for sick children

A new dark step has been taken across the Channel

By on Friday, 14 February 2014

A children's hospital in Belgium. The country has voted to legalise child euthanasia (AP Photo/Yves Logghe, File)

A children's hospital in Belgium. The country has voted to legalise child euthanasia (AP Photo/Yves Logghe, File)

Only the Royal Assent stands between Belgium and legalised euthanasia for children of all ages. It is hard to know where to begin to comment on this. One recommends the report on this in the Telegraph and the insightful analysis of this sad event from the same correspondent Bruno Waterfield. 

Why is this wrong?

Imagine something that philosophers call an ideal choosing situation. You are faced with a choice, and the circumstances are such that you can make this choice on a purely rational basis. All the outside pressures are put aside, as are all the irrational forces that might make you choose one way rather than the other. All prejudices and adverse circumstances count for nothing. The choice is this: death or life? To die or to live? In those circumstances there is only one possible outcome: you would always choose to live.

Now it is perfectly true that choices in the real world are never made in ideal conditions: we are all hemmed in by circumstances that push us one way or another in making choices, and which make purely rational choices very difficult or sometimes impossible. Moreover some people are simply not able to make rational choices for themselves. They might think they give free consent, but this consent is never truly free.

A fifteen year old girl might think she freely consents to sexual intercourse, but the law (in the UK, and many other places) judges her incapable of such consent.

A boy of twelve in the UK may well think he has the right to buy cigarettes, but the law judges otherwise; indeed the law says he needs to be protected from the harmful effects of tobacco smoking.

A seventeen year old girl in the UK may think she is mature enough to make a rational decision in the polling booth, but the law does not allow her to vote.

The law forbids boys under a certain age of joining the army and risking their lives in combat.

And so it goes on. Our laws recognise that children cannot make certain important choices.

But what is this? In Belgium, it seems, children of all ages, will soon be free to choose whether they live or die.

The law is hedged round with safeguards but these will all surely fall by the wayside, as Bruno Waterfield’s analysis makes clear. This idea, that children will ask for euthanasia of their own accord, is the grossest hypocrisy. That is the fig leaf to cover up the real intent of the law: the state-licensed putting down of lives deemed unworthy of life. This has already happened with adults in Belgium where a significant amount of euthanasia is described openly as involuntary. What starts off as choice, eventually becomes compulsory.

What is particularly worrying is the way the Belgian health minister did not even turn up to the debate, and how the Belgian public seems sunk in apathy over this matter. Do they not care? Do they not realise that one day it may be them who are on the receiving end of the lethal injection?

And let us not be distracted by the extreme examples loved of euthanasia campaigners. There is always an alternative to the lethal injection: it may be much more expensive, involve much more trouble than that convenient hypodermic, but it can be done. Hard cases make bad law. And this law is the worst of all.

Let us return to the essential point. Talk of choice is a smokescreen. People in pain and under intense pressure to allow their lives to be ended will not make free choices. This is true of adults, even more so of children. No one, given a true choice, will ever choose death. Belgium stands on the brink of legalising the death penalty for sick children, just as it has done for sick adults.