Of all the social/moral questions facing us, euthanasia is one of the toughest to draw a conclusion on. On the one hand, nobody likes to think of a patient being left to suffer. As individuals we have a right to control our own way of living and, by that logic, our own way of dying. On the other hand, there’s a worry that legalising euthanasia encourages a culture of death. Sadly, the news coming out of Belgium and the Netherlands confirms the critics’ worst fears.
Belgium adopted euthanasia in 2002, one year after the Netherlands, and its laws were designed to help adults riddled with “unbearable physical or mental suffering”. Today, roughly one per cent of all deaths in Belgium are due to euthanasia – and the grounds on which it is carried out are becoming looser and looser. As the Telegraph recently reported, two deaf brothers opted to die after they started to go blind. They were young and their condition wasn’t terminal. They couldn’t bear the thought of living alone and in darkness, which is entirely understandable – but the case bends the spirit of the original law.
Now Belgium is weighing up some changes. One would allow patients diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and other diseases leading to dementia to sign an agreement permitting a doctor to allow them to die when the condition enters an advanced stage – even if they appear perfectly happy and physically stable. Another reform is to allow Belgians under 18 to choose euthanasia, too. This means that children who can’t drive, marry, vote or drink alcohol will be regarded as competent enough to decide whether or not they can die.