By Garima Kushwaha:
Can a teenager who is not allowed to smoke, drink alcohol, have sex, drive, join the army or vote be considered capable of making a decision on life or death?
In Belgium they are.
Belgium removed any age restrictions on euthanasia in 2014. It legalized euthanasia in 2002 and since the law passed, the number of Belgians choosing euthanasia is rising each year. 1,816 people were reported dead through euthanasia in 2013 – which is an average of about 5 people per day. Now after last years’ amendments, even children in Belgium can request euthanasia to intentionally end their lives.
In consequence, a 24-year-old medically depressed but otherwise healthy woman (identified as Laura) has been granted the permission to be legally euthanized by lethal injection in Belgium. This summer, euthanasia will end her life even though she is physically healthy, and enjoys coffee, friends and theater and is only 24. She told DeMorgen that life is not for her.
Laura is a patient at a psychiatric institute since the age of 21 and although experts find her case treatable she decided to only accept death as a “treatment”. She says, “I am convinced that I had this death wish even though I grew up with a quiet, stable family.” Also, Laura says she first began considering euthanasia when she became friends with a woman named Sarah, who ended her life about a year and a half ago. Surprisingly, her suicidal thoughts were not only enough for her to take the decision to die but also qualified her for such a procedure.
Euthanasia for children and young adults like Laura is kindling debate, as it is hard to judge the real intensity of pain they are suffering and their ability to bear with it. Also, there is a possibility that a pain that is deemed unbearable by a child at a moment becomes bearable later in life. The possibility that a child gets pressurized into making such a decision by parents who are emotionally exhausted.
For the same reasons, 160 Belgian pediatricians signed an open letter against the law, claiming that modern medicine is capable of alleviating any pain. Also, both the initial law and the amendment drew unified opposition from Belgian Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders. “The law says adolescents cannot make important decisions on economic or emotional issues, but suddenly they’ve become able to decide that someone should make them die,” says Andre-Joseph Leonard, the archbishop of Brussels and head of the Catholic Church in Belgium.