In the wake of Belgium's recent decision to legalize euthanasia for children, several members of the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life voiced their dismay at the new practice. John Haas, president of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, Pa. and governing member of the academy, called the development “dreadful.” “They are appealing to 'rights of children' to make these determinations, but children aren't capable of making those types of self-determinations,” Haas told CNA in Rome Feb. 21. “So what is really going to happen is that, under the rules of children making these decisions for themselves, parents and physicians are going to be making those decisions, for children, to eliminate them because they've become excessive burdens on them and on the rest of society.” “It’s a terrible situation. Unbelievable, if I may say so.” The bill, which was passed by Belgium's parliament on Feb. 13 and has been sent to the country's King Phillipe, allows for terminally ill children to request euthanasia if they are “in great pain” and there is no available treatment. Parental consent, as well as the agreement of doctors and psychiatrists, is required. Members of the Pontifical Academy for Life convened Feb. 20-21 for a workshop on aging and disability at the Pontifical Augustinianum University just down the street from the Vatican. The academy was established in 1994 by John Paul II to be a kind of institute for studying the fields of biology, medicine, and “ethical issues.” It seeks to offer a response to what Pope Francis has called a “throw-away culture,” which fails to recognize the inherent dignity of every human life. Manfred Lutz, head physician of the Alexanier Infirmary in Cologne, Germany described the Belgium parliament's decision as “dramatic.” “It really means that disabled children can be 'disposed of,' so to speak, so that society is not burdened with them,” Lutz said. “For the humanity of society the outcomes are grave. I would call it a 'breach in a dam,' and we all have to make an effort to not let this breach happen in other countries,” he cautioned. “What has been decided in Belgium is inhuman — it is a return to barbarism.” For Robert Buchanan of Austin, Texas, one of the biggest issues surrounding euthanasia is the breach of trust between doctor and patient. “There are physicians that are involved in euthanasia, and I think that is directly opposed to my role as a physician: to have any role in the process. The physician's role is care,” said Buchanan, who serves as chief of Functional and Restorative Neurosurgery & Neuroscience at the Seton Brain and Spine Institute. “Some people in the right to die movement would say that the end — death — is part of care, and I would agree with that,” he explained. “As a neurosurgeon, we deal with a lot of very, very severe traumatic injuries to the brain and spinal cord, and people do die. (But) I've never, by my own hand, killed someone or euthanized someone.” Moreover, he added, “in my opinion, it would be very confusing to me as a patient. What is my physician's interest in my care? I want them to try to help me.” “Sometimes help can also be withdrawal of certain types of care if it's extraordinary or burdensome: but I certainly don’t want them ending my life.”
Jan Bentz contributed to this article.