Monday, 14 January 2013

Euthanasia for Children

Last December, history was made in Brussels.

Twin brothers opted to be euthanized together.

The two men, 45, from the Antwerp region were both born deaf and sought euthanasia after finding that they would also soon go blind.

It’s not just the fact that they were twins. The Telegraph said that “The case is unusual because neither of the men was terminally ill nor suffering physical pain.”

The paper then went on to report that  “Just days after the twins were killed by doctors, Belgium's ruling Socialists tabled a new legal amendment that will allow the euthanasia of children and Alzheimer's sufferers.” (You can read the full article here)

The rules in Brussels currently state that euthanasia can go ahead if “the person wishing to end their life is able to make their wishes clear and a doctor judges that they are suffering unbearable pain”.

After this news, there will be many Christians reaching for their pens to write to their MEPs. That’s good. But can I put something else to you.

If we as Christians are going to complain and attempt to make euthanasia illegal - especially when it comes to children with disabilities, we also need to look at helping to provide a viable alternative - or at least try to understand why people find this to be the only alternative to living with illness and pain.

These Issues Are Not Always Cut And Dried

Look at this from the point of view of a young person with disabilities. 

This is what they often see ahead of them:
  • They see adults with disabilities having all financial help withdrawn because of cuts in disability allowances feeling that the only way out is suicide.
  • They see older friends struggling with inadequate provision of care, where the carer due to come and help them doesn’t even turn up, or if they do turn up, barely having time to help get them up. 
  • They see friends who have opted for supported living accommodation being abused or not adequately cared for.
  • Some can’t see themselves having an amazing future, getting married or having kids of their own. 
  • Some can’t see themselves getting jobs - especially since much of the support that used to be supplied to help them in the work place has been removed in this latest round of cuts.
  • They read comments from high profile people making comments about “aborting babies with defects”.
  • If they know they are going to need care into adulthood, the prospects can look bleak. They don’t see that for some it works out - because for the majority it doesn’t.

All of this can compound the feeling that they are a drain on society and have no right to be alive.

The Natural Next Step?

Can you see why they might take up the option of euthanasia? Surely it's the next logical step?

In health care, children are already allowed to make informed choices about their own care - and that is good. Why is it so unbelievable that the natural next step would be opting for euthanasia?

The Reality

Let’s look at it from another angle. 

For some babies who are born with such severe issues that they cannot live for many weeks without invasive care, and then in considerable pain, it is not unusual for only palliative care to be given. 

This decision is reached along side parents and isn’t the default position on care. When is it decided to treat them, the baby only usually lives a matter of weeks longer and often in a lot of discomfort. I have been a nurse caring for babies in both situations and both are agony for the parents.

If you want to take your campaigning to the extreme - you have to consider these situations too. What support can we give in both cases?

As a nurse I looked after a youngster from birth to death. Just over a year. Her issues were severe and her parents decided they couldn’t cope and put her up for adoption. She never got out of hospital. She was assigned foster parents, but fostering a child who is permanently in hospital never works.
Her life was all about keeping her alive at all costs, even though it was agony for her. Eventually - after much talk, it was decided to give only basic care (Nutrition and cuddles). Her first smile was in my arms as she passed peacefully away, free of needles and uncomfortable plastic oxygen head boxes. Was that wrong? If you think it was - please go and hold a child in obvious pain 24/7 because we insist on keeping them alive….just because we can. Can you, as a Christian provide the extra support needed if this course of action wasn't taken?

I am against euthanasia, but if if you are going to campaign on the right to life….. We need to consider these things too. 

Campaign by all means, but be careful. 

Consider all the options and remember - we also need to provide an alternative. Our churches need to be up to the task of helping practically and providing the much needed pastoral support too.


  1. Kay,

    As usual you have produced a very thoughtful posting on a big issue. The more we look at so many ethical issues the harder it is to be black and white on the issue. I have been considering some of these issues at the other end of the age spectrum where older people have developed conditions leaving them with little or no quality of life but are still being kept alive because 'that is what we do'. There are times to let nature take its course. I could not bring myself to argue for active euthanasia or even the withdrawl of food and fluids but I can see a case for withdrawing aspects of medical care that prolong life without any hope for cure. My struggle is where food, water, etc. are seen as medical care following the decisions made over Tony Bland in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster. There must be scope to clrify what is medical care and what are basic human needs, but I'm not sure I'm the one to know quite where that should be drawn.

    1. Thanks for your comment Dave.
      I agree - there should be more help on clarifying this. But where ever the line is drawn, some one will disagree.
      What I want to argue for is this: Rather than "the church" just saying "Thou shalt not", I'm asking that we actually understand it's not black and white and then get on with providing the support needed. It's what the church used to do!
      It shouldn't be churches on their own either - they would sink without trace if left to just a few in each church. It needs to be a national thing so churches can be facilitated in providing the support on the ground.


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