By Jae Wasson
(WNS)–A terminally ill 17-year-old, the first minor approved for legally assisted suicide in Belgium, died over the weekend.
The Belgian lawmaker who helped craft the 2014 law legalizing euthanasia for all minors confirmed the teen’s death to the media on Sept. 17 but declined to provide details to protect the grieving family.
While Liberal Senator Jean-Jacques De Gucht and other supporters hailed the child’s death as humane, opponents call such lax attitudes toward life worrisome.
In recent years, efforts to legalize euthanasia have gained ground in the United States, but pro-life advocates don’t expect Americans to follow Belgium’s example any time soon.
“The argument they make is that young people are suffering…that would be a simple thing to say without looking at all the dangers,” said Diane Coleman, president of Not Dead Yet, an anti-euthanasia group.
Belgium is the only country that allows minors of all ages assistance in dying. The 2014 bill had widespread support when lawmakers proposed it. The minor must be terminally ill, have a rational understanding of life and death, have asked multiple times to die, and have approval from parents and physicians. When the vote passed in the legislative chamber, a single protestor screamed “assassins!”
“It gives me some comfort to know that there is a choice for children out there in the final terminal stages,” De Gucht told reporters Saturday.
Coleman and other opponents of euthanasia note the issue is more complicated than a question of choices. She cited the possibility of discrimination against the terminally ill, the difficulty in knowing whether the death was voluntary, and the inability of doctors to be certain of a terminal diagnosis. Coleman herself was told she wouldn’t live past 12. She’s over 50 now.
Minors, Coleman said, are susceptible to depression, the belief they are not worthy of life, and the lure of ending their pain: “They are really not in the position to weigh the pros and cons and project for the future. … Life can be very good with these disabilities.
For now, U.S. voters tend to agree. Only five states—California, Oregon, Washington, Vermont, and Montana—permit euthanasia for adults. Multiple states defeated similar legalization efforts last year.
Belgium’s Catholic clergy fought their country’s minor euthanasia law as destructive of the sanctity of human life and as discrimination against the ill. Genoa Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco called the Belgian teen’s death worrisome and sad.
“It pains us as Christians but it also pains us as persons,” he said.