September 2016 is a landmark, of sorts. It marks the first time that a child has been euthanised under contemporary euthanasia laws. The death occurred last week in the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium, although it was announced on Saturday by Belgium’s euthanasia supremo, Wim Distelmans. His words were sober and solemn, as befitted the occasion, but I suspect that he and his colleagues are quietly happy to see the boundaries of euthanasia spread even further.
Of course, the euthanasia of new-born infants is relatively common in that part of the world, but not of children who are old enough to be asked if they really want to be killed.
While the details of the death were not disclosed, even the age, Dr Distelmans described it as an exceptional case of a child with a terminal illness living in the Flemish-speaking section of Belgium. “Fortunately there are very few children who are considered (for euthanasia) but that does not mean we should refuse them the right to a dignified death,” he told the Flemish newspaper Het Nieuwsblad.
Belgium is the only country that allows minors of any age to opt for euthanasia. It amended its euthanasia law in 2014 to include children of any age “in a hopeless medical situation of constant and unbearable suffering that cannot be eased and which will cause death in the short term.” The parents must give their approval, as well. Neighbouring Netherlands allows euthanasia for people as young as 12 – and new-borns, if they meet the criteria set down in the so-called Groningen Protocol.
Ultimately this is a triumph for out-and-out nihilism, not just Belgium’s inventive euthanasia lobby. Nihilism is a philosophical fad which seems to catching on in the world of bioethics. Three American bioethicists recently argued the case for population control to fight climate change and yet another bioethicist defended infanticide in the world’s leading bioethics journal. I’ve also stumbled across a new book by South African philosopher David Benatar. In it he argues that procreation is morally wrong because life’s a bitch and then you die (I am over-simplifying, of course.) He concludes his book with these cheerful thoughts:
Every birth is a future death. Between the birth and the death there is bound to be plenty of unpleasantness … Inflicting serious harm—or even the risk of it—on one person, without his or her consent, in order to benefit others, is presumptively wrong.
If I’m right, euthanising a child is not a terminus for Belgian euthanasia, but just a bus stop en route to pure nihilism. What its supporters are trying to eliminate is not just pain, but life itself.
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.