Two European countries are considering or just passed laws that would extend the “right-to-die” to gravely ill children.
Now, in the Netherlands, parents who cannot bear to watch the suffering of their dying child can have doctors administer muscle relaxants that will bring on death quicker, the Dutch Press reported (via Google Translate).
The decision was made last week by the Royal Dutch Medical Association, applying to newborns with conditions so severe that no further medical treatment is being pursued and who have been taken off ventilator support.
“Most children then die quickly, but some will remain [alive for a time] and suffering. Once a doctor administering muscle relaxants, however, the baby dies within minutes,” the Dutch Press stated.
The country’s medical association detailed the criteria for making such a decision in its report “Medical-life decisions in newborns with severe abnormalities.” Here’s some of the position (via Google Translate, emphasis added):
The position aims to eliminate the uncertainty about the various life decisions for newborn to an end and the criteria for intentional termination of life. The position makes it clear that well informed in all cases and involvement of parents is crucial and that palliative care, including palliative sedation, can alleviate much suffering. Sometimes it is not enough. It can, after the decision was within the context of the dying process justified not to start or discontinue treatment, to administer muscle relaxants: if they were already administered as a newborn gaspt or the inevitable death [...] is [unbearable for parents] to sustain. The position promotes transparent decision-making and that is of great medical and social importance.
“These children are gray and cold, they get blue lips and they happen once in a few minutes suddenly extremely deep breath. That’s very nasty to see, and it can take hours and sometimes days go on,” Eduard Verhagen, a pediatrician with UMC Groningen told the Dutch Press.
The guidelines state that artificial hydration and nutrition should be stopped by doctors once it is established that treatment options are no longer viable.
“Giving milk has an emotional charge. But if treatment is useless, it is meaningless. Then you should also stop moisture and tube feeding,” Verhagen said.
Belgium, too, took steps recently that could lead to allowing euthanasia of children who are terminally ill. Der Morgen reported that parliament members are rallying support for a bill introduced in December that will allow this practice in certain cases.
The proposal to allow euthanasia for suffering minors would require parental consent and a psychiatrist to rule the patient has a “capacity for discernment.”
In February, EuroNews reported Professor Dominique Biarent saying minor patients are asking for euthanasia:
“Some children need to have an answer to their demands because they are suffering so much. They are asking for this,” said Biarent.
The Brussels-based doctor said her fellow colleagues have faced this issue for years and need some legal clarity to take away the fear of possible criminal prosecution.
She said doctors always see euthanasia as the last resort.
“We have been raised so we will cure people first. Our aim is always to try and cure a patient. But of course, the second aim is to care for them. Caring is also giving them conditions to die in dignity,” she said.
“Minors are…considered legally incapable of certain acts, for example buying or selling, marrying, and so on,” the Wall Street Journal reported Msgr. Andre-Joseph Leonard, archbishop of Brussels, saying recently. “And here all of a sudden, they’re sufficiently mature in the eyes of the law to ask someone to take their lives?”
Belgium was only second to the Netherlands to legalize euthanasia for adults in 2002.
Quebec’s government also recently introduced right-to-die legislation for adults, which if it passes would make the province Canada’s first with a law permitting medically assisted death.
Bill 52 outlines the conditions necessary for someone to get medical assistance to die and spells out the requirements necessary before a doctor can accept.
Social Services Minister Veronique Hivon says the people of Quebec want the option.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Featured image via Shutterstock.com.