17 Feb 2014 Canada – Watch and Learn from Belgium’s Experience with Euthanasia
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By Mark Penninga, Calgary Herald, February 14 2014: On the eve of Valentine’s Day, Belgium lawmakers voted to remove any age restrictions on euthanasia, granting children the right to have someone end their life.
Canadians should be watching this closely as Quebec is just days away from passing its own euthanasia law, modelled in part after Belgium’s.
The amendment to Belgium’s euthanasia law still requires that children understand their choice to die and request it themselves. And it mandates that the child be terminally ill and near death, among other things.
But one has only to study Belgium’s short 12-year record on euthanasia to discover the inadequacies of these “strict” safeguards.
Belgium became the second country in the world to legalize euthanasia in 2002, but it came with conditions including a requirement for written consent from the patient, administration by a physician, and proper reporting.
Yet what impact do these restrictions have? A 2010 study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal examined 208 euthanasia deaths in Belgium and found that 66 of these were without an explicit patient request. That means that for 31 per cent of these euthanasia deaths, there really was no choice.
To add to this, a British Medical Journal study from the same year examined a cross-section of deaths from Flanders, Belgium, and found that only half of the euthanasia deaths were being reported.
Further, “unreported cases were generally dealt with less carefully than reported cases.” Requests were granted without written consent, palliative care experts were consulted less, and the drugs were administered by a nurse rather than a doctor.
In other words, there is a significant disconnect between what was required in law and what was actually occurring. When a law is justified because it promotes choice, it should be no surprise when its implementation is also subjective — in this case the choice of health care professionals and law enforcement to turn a blind eye.
It isn’t all that different on this side of the Atlantic.
Even before its legislation has been passed, the secretary of Quebec’s College of Physicians, Dr Yves Robert, is already opening the door to a loosening of restrictions. “It’s only a step” he said, according to the National Post.
Speaking to the requirement that euthanasia only be for adults he said, “we will have to think about that, not only for (incapable) adults but obviously for youngsters who face terminal diseases.”
Looking at all of this more broadly, an even more troubling reality is a society that is making it possible for its own children to choose to die. Rights come with corresponding responsibilities. The Belgium government now assumes a responsibility to make children aware of their right to die.
And, as is the case with anyone who lives in a jurisdiction where euthanasia is legal, they now have to implicitly or explicitly justify their own existence.
A right to die easily becomes an obligation to die.
When the government, school teachers, and parents inform a child that they can have someone end their life, how is the child supposed to have the cognitive and moral capacity to decide for him or herself whether they would be doing the right thing by living or dying? This is a decision no child should ever have to make.
Before our nation grants the pleas of those who want “death with dignity” we would do well to look at the countries that have blazed the trail ahead of us, recall what they said when they enacted their laws, and compare that with the reality today.
Will we be a culture of life or death?
Mark Penninga, is the Executive Director of the Association for Reformed Political Action Canada (www.ARPACanada.ca) and the author of Building on Sand: Human Dignity in Canadian Law and Society.
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