Belgium and The Netherlands are two countries where assisted dying has been legalised. In the Netherlands, a national physicians’ group has issued guidelines that says the distress of parents is a justifiable reason to hasten the demise of newborns who are already dying. The Royal Dutch Medical Association’s policy applies to babies born with severe congenital defects who have been removed from life support because it was considered futile, according to Dr Eduard Verhagen, one of the report’s author. While some die immediately after the machines are turned off, others will linger for hours and even days.
“When this process goes on for 18 to 20 to 24 hours … parents sometimes come up to the medical team and say, ‘This is too much; the suffering and the dying process is irreversible. This takes too much of our good memory of our child. Could you please hasten death?’ ” he said.
“The report says if you hasten death under such circumstances … then the medical profession considers that an acceptable practice,” according to Dr Verhagen.
Opponents to euthanasia feel that these changes represent a ‘slippery slope’ that will lead to euthanasia becoming more acceptable in other circumstances.
Should this legislation be passed, Belgium would become the first Western country to officially allow minors to consent to euthanasia, now permitted only for those over 18.
Asked to comment, Joan Marston, Chief Executive of the International Children’s Palliative Care Network (ICPCN) had this to say about the report: “Whilst the ICPCN will report on developments that affect children with life-threatening conditions, it does not as an organisation, agree with the decision to make euthanasia legally available for neonates and children under 18 years.
We believe that providing palliative care from the time of diagnosis of a perinatal or neonatal condition that either causes unbearable suffering, or is incompatible with life, and that includes support for the family into the bereavement period, together with excellent pain and symptom management to relieve the suffering of the neonate, would do much to help families cope with the emotional and spiritual distress that they experience when their baby is dying and after the death.
We would encourage all governments to provide resources for palliative care for neonates and their families, and to promote training of health care professionals in this discipline, to protect the dignity and value of each life, no matter how short.”