Child Euthanasia Goes Away, Stop Organizing This Legally

Look for quality palliative care rather than actively ending the lives of seriously ill children, say Elise van Hoek and Yvonne Josie, sociologist and health scientist at NPV Care for Life.

Yvonne Josie and Elise Van Hoek

Cases of seriously ill children can be so distressing that the desire to end the child’s life appears. Politicians have been working for some time on an end-of-life plan for children aged 1 to 12. Because of their age, they are not subject to the Birth System and the Euthanasia Act. An interesting issue that has been little discussed.

Fortunately, requesting actual termination of life is rare. Thanks to palliative care, the pain and suffering of critically ill children can often be adequately controlled and their loved ones receive support. At the same time, reports suggest there are loopholes in this concern. These require investments, such as resolving bottlenecks in symptom relief, a shortage of pediatric nurses and the need for better communication in this area. This signal overlaps with ideas of making a plan to end children’s lives.

Legally protected doctor

“There may be about five to ten cases per year,” Minister Hugo de Jong wrote when he announced the plan in October 2020. The lives of these terminally ill, hopelessly and intolerably ill children for whom palliative care is insufficient can be ended. New regulations should legally protect doctors who do so from prosecution. And some hope so: actively ending children’s lives will become an accessible path in the Netherlands.

But the scheme is not suitable for this. The Public Prosecution Council recently issued a sharp ruling on the concept and rejected it. According to the institute, the regulation as it is currently proposed would add little to the existing criminal exclusion basis in law in regards to legal protections. Nor do prosecutors see good reason to believe that fear of litigation among doctors will decrease.

In addition, the board wrote that it is not yet possible to make a general regulation, because there is still much debate within the profession. There are justifiable sensitivities about the interpretation of a child’s suffering and the role future suffering may play in seeking an end to life.

Questions of principle

In the midst of an unbridled practice, we should not expect to control the problem with a legal framework. In fact, the legal framework creates a new situation with new dilemmas.

Even with the regulations, there will still be children and children who are not under the legal framework. Then we come to the question: What does the availability of the legal framework do to the expectations of parents from the doctor?

The current list touches on all perspectives on (self) chosen death and how we as a society view life and suffering. Where the independent question in current euthanasia law is the starting point, ending the lives of the helpless is an entirely different path. A path we should not take, because it does not fit with the government’s mission to protect the vulnerable.

Weak position

This path leads to new questions that put helpless people in a very vulnerable position. Why can the life of a severely suffering child end, but not the life of a suffering incompetent elderly person without prior guidance?

NPT Care for Life believes that we should move away from active termination of life because the existence of life and death is too great for humans to bear. But even for those who do not share this basic conviction, the above shows that there are many issues that give reason to stop the development of the scheme.

Read also:

A protocol to end the lives of critically ill children is urgently needed

Forty years ago GP Wim Graafland ended the lives of two children in critical condition in consultation with them and their parents. He writes that this is no longer possible, a protocol is needed.

Paula van Dresten has made a picture book about palliative care for her son: “Everyone wants their child to live. But at what cost?

Medical care aims to improve. But if recovery isn’t possible, how do you let your child die in a loving way? Paula van Driesten did a picture book about the research she and her husband Magnus did before the death of their son Tycho and found a solution with Kinder Comfort Team.

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