Euthanasia for Young Children?

The issue of euthanasia is extremely delicate, sensitive, subjective -- and controversial.

There are so many moral, religious, ethical, medical, emotional and legal aspects associated and entangled with it that one is certainly well advised to tread lightly and wisely when and if venturing into a discussion dealing with euthanasia.

Unlike 2012 GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who made several ignorant and false claims about euthanasia in the Netherlands, I will try to withhold judgment and just report on a story that is making the headlines and one that, I am sure, will generate a lot of discussion and evoke a lot of emotions.

Santorum's euthanasia rant focused on the Netherlands' alleged forced euthanasia. He claimed that in that country euthanasia makes up 10 percent of all deaths, and that forced euthanasia accounts for 5 percent of all deaths there. He also said that people are euthanized involuntarily because they are old or sick and further claimed that elderly people in the Netherlands don't go into hospitals out of fear that they will not come out if they go in there sick -- because of "budget" reasons -- and rather go to other countries.

Dutch authorities, the press and the medical community expressed outrage at and roundly condemned, dismissed and ridiculed Santorum's claims. But the fact remains that in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg -- the Benelux countries -- doctors are allowed "to take steps to actively end a patient's life, usually by administering an overdose of sedatives," but meeting very strict legal and medical requirements, conditions and reviews.

While euthanasia in general is controversial, it would be an understatement to say that euthanasia involving children is a contentious issue.

TIME reports that in Luxembourg, an euthanasia "candidate" must be over 18 and that in the Netherlands children can request euthanasia from the age of 12.

However, "Belgium is expected to become the first country in the world to remove any age restrictions on euthanasia... after an emotional debate which split the medical profession over the best way to treat a terminally ill child with a desire to end his or her life," TIME says.

Under the new laws in Belgium--which passed the Senate in December and are before the Lower House on Thursday--any child under the age of 18 could be considered, but only if they are able to express the wish to die themselves and can demonstrate they fully understand their choice. Their request must then be assessed by teams of doctors, psychologists and other care-givers, before a final decision is made with the approval of the parents.

This, "[d]espite last-minute pleas from within Belgium and as far away as Canada, lawmakers are expected to agree with the doctors who argued that in rare cases of unbearable and irreversible suffering, children should have the same right as adults to ask to die with dignity."

Please read more here about how pediatricians, religious groups and parents are reacting to this -- need I say again? -- very controversial and emotional issue.

For example, the case of a "16-year-old girl who was suffering severe complications from leukemia and was lying in a hospital bed connected to tubes, waiting to die," and the plea by a Canadian 4-year-old girl, born with a congenital heart condition, urging Belgium's King Philippe not to sign the law.