Euthanasia is a controversial subject; death has a habit of enflaming passions. There are only a few countries where those experiencing terrible suffering are able to bring an end to their existence, and these countries are almost all in the ‘West’. So it is perhaps unsurprising that the latest (some would say “logical”) expansion of euthanasia rights comes from Belgium. This week the small European state became the first country to extend the right of euthanasia to children, so long as their parents as well as doctors and psychologists agree. There was some debate within the country itself, but with widespread public and parliamentary support the bill was easily signed into law.

The arguments against euthanasia are many and varied; some cite religious texts while others point to a child’s inability to assume responsibility for their own actions. If it is inhumane to apply the death penalty to those below the age of adulthood (at least in the U.S) as they do not have the capacity to fully comprehend their own crimes, why then should children be able to decide for themselves if they want to die? Leaving aside faith based arguments as somewhat irrelevant to the laws of government, a good point appears to have been raised; even if we accept that adult humans do have a right to self-termination, should children?

This argument stemming from children’s capacity to make choices seems somewhat weak when the actual specifics of the law are examined. Belgium’s euthanasia legislation does not allow for children to simply euthanize themselves at whim. The child’s condition must be terminal, causing them extreme discomfort. Nor is it simply the child’s decision. Psychologists, doctors, care givers and parents must all give their consent for the procedure to take place. To suggest that the above does not constitute both a considered and appropriate process seems somewhat asinine. If we assume that children do not have the capacity to make major life decisions for themselves, and that their parents and health professionals lack the ability to decide for them then it would seem that nobody is allowed to make a euthanasia judgment for children. As this effectively means that no-one has the right to euthansia in that case the argument logically circles back to the legality of euthanasia on the whole, regardless of a person’s age.

Euthanasia critics are unlikely to be swayed; they are understandably perturbed by the thought of someone (particularly a child) choosing to die. This author sympathizes; euthanasia is neither a glamorous process nor something he would advocate to others. However, personal discomfort is no basis for restricting the rights of others, even when it is literally life and death. If someone wishes to argue against the legality of euthanasia for children or for all, that is their prerogative.  But it must be an argument firmly separated from the knee jerk reaction we all share when discussing death or children. We must do more than merely think of the children.