Dutch authorities are drawing up protocols to allow doctors to euthanase children under 12. Euthanasia is already legal for 12-year-olds, but a new proposal would extend existing options to even younger children, including newborns, if they have an incurable illness or unbearable suffering.
News reports say that the guidelines, drawn up with the assistance of paediatrician Eduard Verhagen, of Groningen Hospital, have been under study for the past year. Dr Verhagen says that these will be strict and establish a step-by-step process which must be respected by doctors. A fundamental norm will be that an assessment from a second independent doctor will be required.
According to an official explanation of the current euthanasia law by the Dutch Justice Ministry, “it is generally assumed that minors too have the discernment to arrive at a sound and well-considered request to end their life”. However, the parents of 16 and 17-year- olds must be involved in the decision-making process and their approval is required for the euthanasia of children between 12 and 16.
The Dutch study has not been widely publicised, but the head of the Italian watchdog for children’s rights, Antonio Marziale, denounced any move to allow “mercy killing” for children. According to the official Italian news agency AGI, he declared that decreeing the death of a child meant the unconditional surrender of science. Other observers questioned whether young children could give informed consent to their own death.
In neighbouring Belgium, MPs from the ruling Flemish Liberal Party have introduced a bill to extend the country’s recent euthanasia legislation to minors. Senators Jeannine Leduc and Paul Wille said that terminally ill children and teenagers have as much right to choose when they want to die as adults. The current Belgian euthanasia law came into effect in September 2002.
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