In Theory: Belgium, suffering children and euthanasia

The small European country of Belgium is in the news after its parliament voted to remove age restrictions from the country's euthanasia laws. If King Philippe signs the bill into law, it means children will be eligible for euthanasia.

Belgium has allowed euthanasia since 2002. One of the provisions in the law is that it only applies to those in "constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering that cannot be alleviated."

The removal of age restrictions does mean more safeguards, including that the child is judged able to understand what euthanasia means. Consent of parents or guardians must also be given as well as the approval of three doctors.

Q: What's your take on this move by Belgium?

The LDS church views life as a sacred gift from God and, therefore, is opposed to euthanasia, defined as "deliberately putting to death a person who is suffering from an incurable condition or disease." Assisted suicide also is considered a violation of God's laws.

Belgian lawmakers' decision to remove age restrictions on its law permitting euthanasia is especially troubling for several reasons. A group of 160 pediatricians have signed a letter saying there is no demand for this change, and that medicine can alleviate the worst suffering.

Based on press coverage, it appears the strongest advocates are doctors or other adults who cited their own anguish watching children die. I credit them with good intentions, but I also wonder if one driving force behind their concerns is their own anguish at watching children suffer. Several have mentioned their own emotional pain in arguing for the law.

The only voice I found from those close to the age that the new law addresses was a teenage girl, recently turned 18, who was incapacitated by Huntington's disease. Barely able to speak, she whispered her view that euthanasia is "not good."

I don't view lightly the emotional strain of watching a loved one suffer. My father died slowly, and painfully, of cancer. It was his second battle with the disease and it lasted for nearly a year. To watch one of my children die in similar fashion would be immeasurably more difficult.

However, I also embrace the LDS church's view that life is sacred. I believe, based on conversations that I had with him, that my father found value in his final days, even though they were extremely difficult. Neither he nor my family could foresee the good things, faith-strengthening events, that transpired. But they did. I believe that this is why we are admonished not to end life prematurely. This also is why we should not place this choice in the hands of children.

Michael White
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
La Crescenta


I don't envy lawmakers here. I think that at this end of the ethical spectrum — the huge decisions about life and death — you have no way of knowing what's right, unless and until you're in the situation yourself. And maybe not even then.

My initial (and evolutionary) response is immediate repugnance at the thought of purposely ending the life of a child. Even my second thoughts are that children don't have the long-term perspective, or adequate understanding of death, to make such a decision for themselves (think of all those senseless teen suicides). And what an immense strain it would put on both child and parents, even to contemplate, much less make and implement that decision.

But on third thought: Thankfully, I've never been confronted with a child in constant and unbearable suffering. I have, however, seen a child ill or injured in ordinary ways; and I know how frantic I get, to make it better, how every single second of their pain tears my heart out. I'm not sure what exponential number to multiply that experience by, to get anywhere near what it must be to see your child in unrelenting agony, for months and years, and know that it will never be made any better.

I can at least see the scenario where the last and best thing a loving parent could do for their child is to make the suffering go away. And I suppose if I can imagine those circumstances, I'd have to consider making it legally possible for those parents to help their child in the only way they can.

But I don't envy those lawmakers.

The Rev. Amy Pringle
St. George's Episcopal Church
La Cañada Flintridge


My chronically ill older sister gave birth to her only child. When she became single, my parents built a spacious home where all four of them could comfortably live.

At the age of 3, my beautiful nephew began to lose his speech faculties. Over the next year he became unable to walk or hold up his head. No amount of surgery corrected his challenges. Toward the end of his brief life, he became blind. He was in so much pain that doctors could barely approach his bed. The only thing that calmed him was his mother's voice and touch. She took an extended leave from her job so that she could be with him almost every minute. If she could have taken his pain into her body and died for him, she indeed would have.

After his death she continued suffering; she was diagnosed with the same malady that killed her son. Deeply grieving, and seeking relief from excruciating pain, she was twice put into mental institutions. She further suffered the indignity of seeing her sister and her cousins bear healthy sons and daughters. A person who had never knowingly wronged anyone, my sister sometimes wondered what she had done that would have allowed God to visit such retribution upon her. She was a faithful Christian who knew that her family loved her very much. But her family stood by helplessly as she suffered strokes and was confined to a wheelchair. She signed a do-not-resuscitate order; she was so tired, trying to live just to make her family happy. It is not God's will that anyone suffer; we must suffer with those who suffer, and work harder to alleviate the suffering of the living. I miss my sister so much; I do not wish her back inside that painful body.

The Rev. Dr. William Thomas Jr.
Little White Chapel


I've heard that in countries where euthanasia is practiced, e.g., Holland, that involuntary euthanasia eventually evolves, and consent or no consent, death comes at the determination of those in medical charge. Any time man decides that life and death are in his own hands, life gets devalued. We pity those who suffer terrible disability or who experience the wasting of their bodies, and we recognize that it may be an arduous existence, but killing them, or asking children if they'd like to be killed (instead of doing everything in our power to neutralize their suffering in life) is a tragic direction for civilization.

With today's superior medications, we can cut into bodies, removing tumors and such, and patients feel nothing. Are we incapable of doing likewise for waking patients that endure sharp pains of other sorts? I understand that we have such technology; let's go that direction.

Killing people is not something amoral. Life is given by God and should not be taken by us, especially since this is the only time to live this life. Once gone, it's gone. I know atheists deny the existence of heaven and hell, so they don't worry that decisions to euthanize, especially out of concern for "quality of life," will make any ultimate difference. Such thinking is, in fact, religious thinking, because it postulates a spiritual position that the hereafter has no repercussions, when there just might be. I believe there are because one who was crucified to death and rose again alive has proven their reality. Besides, if atheists believe nothing exists after death, why prematurely end the only life one has? Christians may err on the side of sending people to Jesus early, but again, this isn't man's prerogative, and if there's God, then consider the ramifications of killing sick people and perhaps sending them to a worse condition in the afterlife apart from him. So, killing kids? I vote "no."

The Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church


The ethical question introduced by the recent law accepted by the legislators in Belgium to allow euthanasia for children under 18 is a problematic one for me. We know that the frontal lobe of the cerebral cortex, the center of reasoning, does not fully develop until a human is at least 20 years old. So how can we say that a child would be capable of understanding and making a decision about his or her death before that age? Consequently, I have serious reservations about accepting euthanasia for children, even with the safeguards proposed.

On the other hand, if we were talking about adults having the right to choose their own deaths when life has become too painful to tolerate, I would say unequivocally yes. Why should an adult not be able to make that decision for him or herself? Many people seem to think that our government has the right to decide when a person should be killed by the death penalty but not that a person should be able to choose the time of his or own death when life is unendurable. How can those two conflicting beliefs be held at the same time? I believe that a decision for or against continuing a person's life should be made by that person, using his or her mental, moral, and spiritual capacities — not by a group of legislators. Why should the government be involved?

Life should be a gift, not a burden. For those who are forced to remain alive through artificial means or heroic measures, I believe that the beauty and sanctity of life is lost. I only hope if I am ever in the situation where my life has become intolerably painful, that I will be given the choice to end it with dignity and the loving support of my family and friends and the blessings of my religious community.

The Rev. Dr. Betty Stapleford
Unitarian Universalist Churchof the Verdugo Hills
La Crescenta


It's sickening and saddening. Proponents argue that it would affect only a small number of terminally ill children. True. And removing only a small number of stones from a dam causes later devastation to everyone living below it. Belgium has allowed the killing of children in the womb, now, it's later after birth. How far is it really to go from allowing the terminally ill to die to telling them that they must? Not very, if they continue to devalue human life.

How ironic it is that this same week the world is strongly condemning North Korea for forcing women in prison camps to kill ("euthanize" or "terminate") their newborn children yet we sit inactive and say nothing about Belgium's proposed atrocity against them. Honestly, I can't tell which of the two policies is more demonic. I'm tempted to think the latter.

This week 160 Belgian pediatricians signed an open letter arguing that there was no need for the law because medicine is capable of relieving the worst suffering of terminally ill children. In light of this how could anyone in their right mind think that the "humane" option is instead to kill them?

When Jesus Christ was faced with illness and suffering it was never His choice to "euthanize." He always healed, helped and comforted. Jesus didn't even make the repentant thief crucified next to him die sooner when he knew the man would continue suffering. If we accept the concept of "mercy killing" why not accept the concepts of mercy stealing, mercy adultery, mercy bombings and mercy torture? They're all ridiculous concepts.

Through Moses God told the nation of Israel: "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants…" That still seems like the best policy to me.

Pastor Jon Barta
Valley Baptist Church


I cannot consider the question of euthanasia without realizing that it would be a complete nonissue if the Church would take seriously the great commission of the Lord Jesus Christ. We are to go throughout the world and proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God with signs following that confirm our message.

Mark 16:15–18 makes it clear that one of the confirming signs that is to accompany Christians is that in Jesus name we will lay hands on the sick and they will recover. Some theologians debate the authenticity of this text because it is omitted in some early manuscripts. However, this is not the only place where this commission is given. At the Last Supper, in his final moments with his disciples, Christ told them, "I tell you the truth. Anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works because I am going to my Father." (John 14:12)

Christ has given the Church the keys, or the authority of the kingdom of God here on earth. (Matthew 16:19) Whether the Church realizes it or not, we carry the authority to terminate unremitting suffering from disease and sickness. People who are suffering should be able to call upon us to come and lay our hands on the sick and have them recover.

No one should have to live in so much suffering that they would seriously think of ending their life. The fact that the issue of euthanasia is even on the table is an indictment against the Church. We are not taking seriously what Father God has called us to do, in love to heal the sick to his glory.

Pastor Ché Ahn
HRock Church


To try to imagine my child being terminally ill or suffering "unbearable physical or mental suffering that cannot be alleviated" puts me in an emotional place where theory does not exist. I would want to have every option available to care for her as we thought best.

Those who believe that euthanasia is always morally wrong might want to consider that many folks in the U.S. would rather die than endure what often passes for medical care here.

Medical personnel in Belgium say that this legislation is unnecessary there because their country's health system provides excellent and enlightened support for families with a terminally-ill child and the best possible medical treatment, including advanced hospice and palliative care.

One Belgium pediatrician who supports the new law told CNN that "in practice it would make little difference," because doctors there already end the lives of those whose suffering cannot be relieved, but "in the dark" because it is currently illegal.

Obviously reasonable laws on euthanasia and safeguards on its use need to be followed. My take is that those opposed shouldn't do it. But don't dictate to others about a decision that is deeply personal and thus a private choice.

Roberta Medford


On reading news like this, it can be hard to know whether to sit down and write a reasonable response, or just to weep and pray to the Lord to have mercy. Perhaps I will do both, although writing a reasonable response (in less than 300 words) is more difficult.

For years ethicists have debated the moral rectitude of withholding "heroic measures" from terminally ill patients. The common consensus is that there are some situations in which withholding "heroic measures" is morally allowable. However, this must be understood to be in a different category than the euthanasia, or "mercy killing," that Belgium allows. Euthanasia is not withholding treatment, but actively killing a person in order to end their suffering. Euthanasia is not morally allowable.

I sympathize greatly with those who have family members (young or old) who have terminal conditions and are enduring acute suffering. The pain, for both the patient and the family, is great and the decisions are difficult. However, our consciences must be informed by the Word of God. Suffering is not the ultimate evil. In fact, some degree of suffering is all but guaranteed. And the Bible encourages us that enduring suffering with patience and faith is one way we glorify Jesus (1 Peter 4:12-13). If you are suffering through these things now, Jesus is able to sympathize with you. He knows what it is to suffer physically, emotionally, and spiritually and to endure a cruel death. He also knows what it is to have hope in the midst of death, and to overcome the grave. He can redeem your suffering and turn it to life, rather than death.

Pastor Jeff Tell
New Life Burbank


In the past, I have generally been in favor of euthanasia. We put animals down when they are in pain, so why not humans? True, there have to be all kinds of safeguards, even for mature, adult humans. But when there is no possibility of alleviating pain, it can be cruel and unusual punishment to force somebody to continue to live and usually at great expense. So with the proper safeguards I am in favor of allowing someone to end his/her life.

To allow a child to do the same I find somehow more difficult, and yet if the child can really be made to understand that the end is the end and there is no coming back, maybe society should allow the practice. This is one of those issues in which I find myself torn. I don't feel strongly one way or the other. I certainly have strong opinions about other issues, but not so much this one. Besides, not very many young persons, percentage-wise, would be affected.

I hope I don't seem callous, but I don't have the "fire in the belly" on this issue.

The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
La Cañada Flintridge

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