Pro-life groups have called Belgium's recent passage of a "right to die" law that allows terminally ill children the permission to end their own lives "abhorrent and inhumane," questioning how a civilized society would sanction such an option.
"No civilized society allows children to kill themselves. Far from a compassionate law, this law hands the equivalent of a loaded gun to a child with the astonishing belief that the child should be free to pull the trigger if he or she so chooses. Belgium's decision to allow this is grotesquely abhorrent and inhumane," said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Legal Counsel Roger Kiska in a statement. The Belgian Chamber of Deputies voted 86–44 on Thursday in favor of the controversial law.
ADF added that it had sent the Belgian Parliament a legal analysis that said the proposed law operated under the premise that life is not worth living and children are somehow mature enough to make such a decision on their own. The group added that the newly passed law "exploits vulnerable children by handing to them a 'freedom' that they are completely ill-equipped to bear."
Under the "right to die" legislation, all age restrictions will be removed from the European nation's existing euthanasia law.
Belgium, where close to 75 percent of the population is said to be Roman Catholic, becomes the first country in the world with such a law. Children who wish to end their own lives must be tested by psychologists and must be "capable of discernment" when making such a decision.
Supporters of the law played down the controversy, arguing that it will only be used in rare cases.
"This is not about lethal injections for children, this is about terminally ill children, whose death is imminent and who suffer greatly," said Carina Van Cauter, from the Flemish Liberal Democrats who back the law.
"There are clear checks and balances in the law to prevent abuse," she added.
Carine Brochier from the European Institute of Bioethics said, however, that the law is dangerous and questioned whether it really would apply only to a small number of cases.
"You don't make a law for three people a year, that's really crazy," Brochier said.
"People are getting used to this idea of euthanasia in order to say okay, well if I don't want to live anymore then I will ask for euthanasia. If I suffer, the answer is euthanasia," she continued. "If you offer euthanasia then some parents might be tempted to act and to ask for euthanasia."
The Joni and Friends International Disability Center, which serves as the administrative center for ministries which provide outreach to thousands of families affected by disability around the world, also criticized the law, reminding readers that the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities specifically states that "every human being has the inherent right to life and shall take all necessary measures to ensure its effective enjoyment by persons with disabilities on an equal basis with others."
"I don't understand how the Belgian legislators can ratify the CRPD yet at the same time, offer a so-called right-to-die not only to adults, but – heartbreakingly – to children who may feel distraught by their incurable conditions (which could include disabilities)," wrote Joni Eareckson Tada, founder and CEO of IDC.
"It is abhorrent that we should burden a child with such an unthinkable responsibility in deciding when his or her life should end. Society's unwritten moral law has always led us to save our children, not destroy them – and certainly not to allow them to destroy themselves."
The head of the Catholic Church in Belgium, Brussels Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, led a prayer vigil last week against the law, and asked why minors would be granted such responsibility when they had to wait until 18 years of age to receive other legal rights.
"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," Archbishop Leonard said.
Other European nations where euthanasia is legal, but not for children, include the Netherlands and Luxembourg, while Switzerland permits assisted suicide.