Dying children don’t rate religious viewpoints

Belgium is on the map these days, and not for its waffles or Brussels sprouts. It’s for passing a law allowing children to have themselves killed.

Euthanasia is already legal there, but in mid-February the nation extended the “privilege” to children. As you might expect, there’s been much hand-wringing over the matter, such as on CNN or at ABC News.

The journalists there sought out educators, pediatricians and medical researchers. Naturally.

You know whom they didn’t ask? You got it: religious leaders. The ones who have dealt with issues of life and death, and beyond, since before the written word was invented.

How’s that working out? Well, we get some back-and-forth on the need for the law, although the two stories don’t handle the issues equally. Both raise the specter of children suffering unbearably with some disease like cancer. Both note that the law requires parental consent and counseling for the children, to make sure they understand what euthanasia means — “the child must understand the gravity of the request,” says ABC. But ABC appears to focus more on the general philosophy behind euthanasia; CNN brings up more reasons against it.

“I think there is such a thing as a futility in palliative care: that for some patients even the best palliative care will not suffice to ease their suffering,” Belgian sociologist Kenneth Chambaere tells ABC. He also “argues that in reality, Belgium will also have an age limit because of the strict competence and capability criteria.”

ABC reports that people also request euthanasia in Belgium for depression, and that a death wish may well be a symptom of dementia. The article goes into waiting periods and advance directives, neither of which have much to do with killing children.

The weird thing about the CNN story is one of the cases it brings up to illustrate why some people see a need for children’s euthanasia — a woman who was distraught over the prolonged death of her baby from a neurological illness:

“That whole period of sedation, you always need to give more and more medication, and you start asking questions. And you say, ‘What’s the use of keeping this baby alive?’ ” [Linda] van Roy said.

She wishes she could have administered a fatal dose of medication to make the end of her daughter’s short life come more quickly.

That’s why she’s campaigning for a change to Belgium’s euthanasia laws, to give the choice of ending their suffering to older children whose bodies are wracked with pain.

An accompanying video shows the mother and her dying child and, shockingly, cuts to a Belgian doctor who says that the euthanasia law would just legalize what some doctors already do.

This despite the fact that, as ABC points out, the baby, who died at 10 months, “would never have qualified for euthanasia.” So the mother pushes for a law to enable children to end the kind of prolonged death her baby underwent, even though the law wouldn’t have affected the baby? Sounds like logic works no better in Brussels than in Washington, D.C. Might there be another side to quote in that debate linked to faith and ethics?

At least CNN lines out several secular reasons against euthanasia for children. Among them: Medicine now provides for pain management; few children will ever ask to die; most medical teams caring for terminally ill children wouldn’t believe that children make a “spontaneous and voluntary demand” for euthanasia.

Most tellingly, CNN quotes a nurse’s belief “that giving children a choice would mean they made decisions based on what they thought their families wanted to hear, and that it would be a terrible strain for children who may already feel they are a burden to their caregivers.”

What does God think of all this?

How would offing oneself affect the soul? You’ll never find out from the ABC and CNN stories.

It’s not like reporters would have to work hard to find religious viewpoints. They could just Google “euthanasia religious views” or “euthanasia religious debate” and get lengthy lists.

Nor would they have to settle for Teabagger or Fox News or religious right or other opinions they (or their editors?) despise. How about some organization like the BBC?

Religions provide understanding and comfort for those who are facing death.

Religions regard understanding death and dying as vital to finding meaning in human life. Dying is often seen as an occasion for getting powerful spiritual insights as well as for preparing for whatever afterlife may be to come.

So it’s not surprising that all faiths have strong views on euthanasia.

… followed by a specifics from religious traditions: Buddhist, Christian, Roman Catholic Church (separate from Christian for some reason), Hindu, Islamic, Judaic and Sikh.

The introduction notes that most religions disapprove euthanasia, and offers several reasons: Human life is sacred and God-given, God forbids harming the innocent, killing violates human dignity. BBC even explains why eastern religions oppose euthanasia, such as ahimsa, or non-harm, and the natural cycle of death and rebirth. Shortening life also hampers working out karma and so escaping the cycle.

Sources on the west shore of The Pond are available as well. Good ol’ Pew Forum produced a thorough rundown on euthanasia by 16 religions — breaking them down into Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Southern Baptists, mainline Protestants, Seventh-day Adventists and Unitarian Universalists. And Pew directly quotes responsible leaders, including Edgar R. Lee of the Assemblies of God. One good touch: Separating out the stance of the predominantly black National Baptist Convention.

Now, why aren’t those considerations valuable in discussing euthanasia?

Charles Lewis of Canada’s National Post tells an incredible account of a caller who actually objected to a nun being quoted on euthanasia. Why? Because “he said, those for euthanasia would dismiss any opposing argument as simply religious people foisting their morality on others.”

While acknowledging some secular arguments against euthanasia, Lewis says that people should also apply religious wisdom:

There are thousands of years of tradition and wisdom in our Judaeo-Christian culture that tells us how we should treat our fellow human beings. We remember the Good Samaritan not for putting the stranger on the road out of his misery with a lethal injection but for making sure the injured man was nursed back to health.

But the man who complained to me several years ago had a point. For those opposed to state-sanctioned suicide they will only win this debate by excluding God and religion. It should not be this way but I am afraid that is the world we live in right now. At the same time those religious leaders who feel compelled to speak out might want to find secular partners to share their podiums, lest they be pigeonholed as just another religious fanatic.

Nor was Lewis’ column, last October, mere speculation: The Post reported Feb. 19 that legislators in Quebec were racing to legalize the practice before the opposition killed the bill. The 500-word article quoted no religious leaders.

After all, why would the folks who hatch, match and dispatch — let alone teach, preach, feed, counsel and otherwise care for families — ever have anything worthwhile to say about children killing themselves?

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About Jim Davis
  • Andy_Schueler

    While acknowledging some secular arguments against euthanasia, Lewis says that people should also apply religious wisdom

    After all, why would the folks who hatch, match and dispatch — let alone teach, preach, feed, counsel and otherwise care for families — ever have anything worthwhile to say about children killing themselves?

    It´s not as if this is about a law that would make religion illegal, the families that want to apply “religious wisdom” in such situations have every opportunity to do so. For a discussion over what should be legally allowed however, questions like
    “What does God think of all this?” or “How would offing oneself affect the soul?” could not be less relevant – we don´t make laws based on what some people believe about what some alleged Gods think of this issue or how it would affect “souls”.

    • fredx2

      On the other hand, the 2% that are atheists usually don’t have much effect either. So if 98% do take seriously “alleged Gods” and “souls” and if religious people have been struggling with these issues for thousands of years, maybe they have a wealth of experience that could bring some light to the problem. You know, take in all the evidence before you make a decision?

      • Andy_Schueler

        On the other hand, the 2% that are atheists…

        According to Wikipedia´s “Demographics of Atheism” article, Belgium has this distribution wrt belief in God or lack thereof:
        - “I believe there is a God”: 37%
        - “I believe there is some sort of spirit or life force”: 31%
        - “I don’t believe there is any sort of spirit, God or life force”: 27%

        Your 2% is thus a little off… But even if that were the case, it would still be completely irrelevant, it would even be irrelevant if there were less than 0.01% atheists in Belgium, because neither Christianity nor any other religion is the basis for legislation.

        So if 98% do take seriously “alleged Gods” and “souls” and if religious people have been struggling with these issues for thousands of years, maybe they have a wealth of experience that could bring some light to the problem. You know, take in all the evidence before you make a decision?

        They can. They do. No one wants to stop them from doing it or even just make it harder for them to do it. And no one wants to force them to do something that they don´t want to do. All I pointed out was that their religious opinions are utterly irrelevant for a discussion over what should be legally allowed or not. If you don´t want to do x because of your religious beliefs, cool, then don´t do x. If you don´t want to do x and want the state to use its power to prohibit everyone from doing x, then you need secular arguments, else your opinion is simply not of any interest whatsoever for the discussion over whether x should be legal or not. It is that simple.

    • FW Ken

      It’s not about making laws, but telling the story, examining the cultural milieu. Real people see things from many viewpoints and journalists should include a variety of viewpoints, including people for whom this issue had religious aspects.

  • boinkie

    given the large Muslim population in Belgium(3.5%) and the Netherlands (4.5%) shouldn’t their community been part of the “discussion”? link Hint: They would be against it.

  • juliaduin

    This so feels like the slippery slope. That poor teenager in the film clip could think and of course she wanted to live, even though the quality of her life is not what she would have wanted. The mom was right: There are so few services for the profoundly disabled. Must say the clip took a pretty favorable view toward euthanasia.


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