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Over the two decades that have elapsed since I first became interested in the ethics of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide, I have changed my mind. Not about whether or not I think it should be made legally permissible, but about why I think it should not.
My early objections were merely matters of morality. Actively killing patients (ie, euthanasia in the sense in which I am using it here) seemed self-evidently wrong in principle. But at the same time, it seemed quite a good idea in practice. As the years have passed, some of the myths presented by proselytes have made me less sure of both propositions. In a bid to dispel some of those myths, let's start by applauding the Belgian government for recognising that children can participate in decisions in respect of their own lives.1 Myth number one is that euthanasia in children is wrong because children cannot have meaningful autonomy in medical care.
Let's also remind ourselves that those who favour euthanasia for children are not child-haters. They are not recommending that children be killed because they consider children unimportant or because they value life insufficiently highly. That is myth number two. Most are well-intentioned, caring people who support euthanasia because they genuinely believe it is the most compassionate way to treat suffering patients when there is no prospect of a cure. Supporters often appeal to the compassion of the owner who asks the vet to put his dog out of its misery.
Myth number three, then, is that euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide do not ameliorate suffering. They certainly do. Loving families and compassionate professionals faced with the day-to-day agony of caring for a dying child will certainly feel the same sort of relief as the child dies that a loving dog-owner experiences …
Competing interests None.
Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.