In the face of widespread public indifference and a largely silent media, Belgium looks set on passing a law allowing doctors to kill terminally ill children.
Yesterday, the Senate justice and social affairs committee approved a draft bill allowing the practice. It will now pass to parliament where it will be voted upon in the coming months.
Three quarters of Belgians approve of the proposal, according to surveys, making it likely the bill will pass.
The proposed legislation would allow the euthanasia of terminally-ill minors so long as they are judged capable of deciding for themselves and are in pain that is "unbearable and cannot be alleviated", according to AFP.
A medical team would offer advice and their parents' approval would be required.
Belgium’s bishops and other religious leaders have warned the measure risks “destroying the functioning of society”.
“We are also opposed to suffering, whether physical or moral, and especially the suffering of children,” Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, president of Belgium’s bishops conference, said in a joint statement with Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders last month.
“But to suggest minors can decide on their own euthanasia is to falsify their power of judgment and their freedom,” they added. “To suggest persons with dementia can also be euthanized is to deny their dignity and hand them over to the arbitrary judgment of decision-makers.”
“The irony of human history shows that when we start deciding which human lives are worthy of living, the moment inevitably comes when someone else makes that decision for us,” he warned. Deva said he believes the proposed law is the “skeletal face of healthcare rationing, disguised by a mask of false mercy and compassion.”
Belgium’s religious leaders said the proposed legislation risked “the growing banalisation of a very grave reality.”
“Instead of supporting a suffering person and gathering persons and forces around to help them, we risk dividing these forces and isolating the suffering person, branding them guilty and condemning them to death,” they said.
In 2012, Belgium recorded about 1,200 cases of euthanasia and the rate of killings has rapidly increased since legalisation in 2002. Last year, a mentally ill man serving 20 years for a double murder became Belgium’s first prison inmate to be euthanized.
In November 2012, the government announced plans to follow the Dutch in allowing euthanasia for Alzheimer sufferers.
Belgium’s religious leaders said all forms of suffering cause dismay, but to prescribe euthanasia for vulnerable people “radically contradicts their condition as human beings.”
“We cannot enter into a logic which will lead to destruction of society’s very foundations,” they said.
Catholics nominally make up three-quarters of the Belgian population, but secularism has long taken hold in the country and only one in 10 attends Church services.
Despite the alarming and previously unthinkable prospect of doctors – whose primary purpose is only to save and preserve life – being authorised to kill children, the world is being remarkably silent. But when doctors have been legally allowed to kill unborn children for so many years, perhaps this is all tragically inevitable.