The Prohibition of Euthanasia in Children and its Effects on Children’s Rights

The Prohibition of Euthanasia in Children and its Effects on Children’s Rights

Par : Myrto Giannakopoulou


An ongoing debate has surrounded a person’s right to end their own life when suffering from an incurable and fatal disease. This practice is known as euthanasia or medical assistance in dying (MAID). It is important to note the terms euthanasia and MAID differ in the way the medication is administered; the former requiring another person to administer the medication, while the latter requires the patient to take the medication themselves (Compassion and Choices, 2020). This paper will use these terms interchangeably since their fundamental effects on a person’s rights are indistinguishable. Few countries have legalized this practice, with the majority only legalizing it for individuals 18 years of age and older. The legalization of euthanasia in children is one that has not been examined in depth, and certainly not implemented in the majority of countries. Article 1 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) defines a child as “(…) every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.” This paper will examine the laws applicable to countries that have legalized euthanasia for children, while contrasting them to the situation in Canada surrounding this practice.

In 2014, Belgium became the first country to legalize euthanasia without implementing age restrictions, therefore, officially making it accessible to children (Lane, 2018). Given the uncertainty which surrounds allowing a child to make such important medical decisions, Belgium law has put in place conditions to minimize the potential risks associated with this practice. A child who asks for the procedure undergoes psychiatric evaluations to determine their maturity level, and determine if they understand the consequences of the practice and the severity of the situation (Lane, 2018). In addition, the parent’s consent as well as the doctor’s confirmation that “the child is in a hopeless medical situation of constant and unbearable suffering that cannot be eased and which will cause death in the short term” are fundamental conditions to allow the child to undergo the procedure (The National News, 2014). Although deciding to go forth with euthanasia is in no means an easy decision to make, legalizing the practice for children gives them more control over their situation and their rights. This directly translates into taking a step in the right direction to advocate for children’s rights.

According to Canada’s MAID law, to be eligible for this practice one must be at least 18 years old (Government of Canada, 2021). This paper argues that the prohibition of MAID has effects on children’s rights as a whole. According to article 3(1) of the CRC, a convention which Canada has ratified, “In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interest of the child shall be a primary consideration.” In addition, article 12 of the CRC stipulates that children have the right to be heard when it pertains to decisions affecting them directly, and this, given their level of maturity and discernment. Excluding children from the right to acquire MAID goes directly against the principle of the best interest of the child, a principle which, as shown previously, should be at the basis of all decisions as they pertain to children. Allowing a child to suffer through an incurable and ultimately fatal disease, while allowing individuals of 18 years and older to stop their suffering, shows that the best interest of the child is not what is at heart when examining these situations. Furthermore, according to article 39 of the Charter of human rights and freedoms, “Every child has the right to the protection, security and attention that his parents or the persons acting in their stead are capable of providing.” Although this principle is clearly stipulated in the Charter of human rights and freedoms as it pertains to the province of Québec, and not in the Constitution, it is evidently a principle which applies to all children in Canada and not just those in Québec. Given this principle and the prohibition of MAID, children’s protection is ultimately being overlooked. Although MAID is an unfortunate situation to put a child in, it stops them from suffering through an otherwise gruesome disease. The eligibility of children for MAID will protect them against extreme suffering and discomfort.

Prohibiting individuals under the age of 18 access to Canada’s MAID law and its policies directly impacts the rights of children. Medical assistance in dying is a practice which should be accessible to all individuals, including children. The conditions set in place should match those of the Belgian law in order to adequately evaluate the child’s level of discernment and allow the child to be heard, all while requiring parental consent. With these conditions, Canada would ensure the respect and advocacy of children’s rights while maintaining consideration of a child’s vulnerability.


References

Compassion and Choices. (2020, February 12). Medical Aid In Dying is Not Assisted Suicide, Suicide or Euthanasia. Retrieved from https://compassionandchoices.org/about-us/medical-aid-dying-not-assisted-suicide/

Government of Canada. (2021, March 18). Medical assistance in dying. Retrieved from

https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/medical-assistance-dying.html

Lane, C. (2018, August 07). Opinion | children are being euthanized in Belgium. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/children-are-being-euthanized-in-belgium/2018/08/06/9473bac2-9988-11e8-b60b-1c897f17e185_story.html

The National News. (2014, February 13). Belgian Parliament passes law on euthanasia for children. Retrieved April, from https://www.thenationalnews.com/world/belgian-parliament-passes-law-on-euthanasia-for-children-1.479942

UN Commission on Human Rights, Convention on the Rights of the Child., 2 September 1990,

E/CN.4/RES/1990/74, available at: https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx

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