Consider This: Euthanasia of Children

I can't believe I'm going to admit this, but there were several times when Joey was sick that I wished that the inevitable would just hurry up and happen. We knew he was going to die. That much was clear. What we didn't know was exactly how or when he would die.

Would his brain tumor cause blindness? Would it render him unable to speak or move? What would be the extent of the damage the beast caused to his little person? That was unknown.

I imagined the what-ifs a lot. As terrible as it was to think about, I had to prepare myself for the worst. I had to imagine it over and over again, so if it happened, I would be ready.

But sometimes on my darkest, most sad and miserable days, I fantasized about turning our van into traffic and killing us both just to hurry it up.

It's awful, I know, but that's the desperation of a parent who knows her child will die and doesn't want to watch him suffer.

I heard something on the radio the other day that made me shudder: Belgium is thisclose to moving forward with a law allowing euthanasia for children.

It made me stop and take pause because I was just talking to someone the other day about euthanasia for adults. My Catholic faith tells me this is wrong, but my heart tells me that some people should be able to choose to end a life of misery rather than knowingly suffer.

The Belgium law states that "euthanasia would be permissible for terminally ill children who are close to death, experiencing “constant and unbearable suffering” and can show a “capacity of discernment,” meaning they can demonstrate they understand the consequences of such a choice."

The law has already passed 86 to 44 in their "lower house" and is just awaiting the king's final approval.

This is so heavy. It makes my heart heavy. The New York Times article I'm quoting spoke specifically of children with terminal cancers. Much of the debate is around the fact that children may not be mature enough to decide, that "closeness to death" is a matter of opinion, that children in that much pain might not be mentally able to make that decision, and that modern medicine is, in fact, capable of alleviating the suffering of even the terminally ill.

This issue is fraught with so much emotional debate. On one hand, seeing a child suffering is absolutely unbearable. On the other hand, killing a child - whether that child wants it or not - is completely unconscionable to most people.

What saved us when Joey was sick was that he didn't seem to be suffering. Yes, it was awful to watch him vomit and puff up from the steroids that were supposed to keep him from vomiting. It was heartbreaking to answer the same question over and over again because his short-term memory had been stolen. And in the beginning, it was a punch in the gut when he asked why this was happening to him and why he wasn't getting any better.

But if I had turned my van into oncoming traffic and he'd been killed, we would have missed so much. We would have missed those moments of Joey humor when he pulled a one-liner or when he talked in his Stripey Kitten voice or when we cuddled at night and he would whisper in a shaky voice, "Mommy, I am SO your boy." We would have missed the smiles and the occasional laughs that we cling to now.

The bad part  - the part where Joey couldn't move out of the same chair, where he lost control of his bladder, where it was hard for him to eat, and where he barely spoke - that really only lasted a short time. And I got to hold him while he died, feeling his body slow down and eventually shut off - a natural death.

Euthanasia of humans is an awful issue, but terminal illness is awful, too. What it does to a person is horrible and miserable and heartwrenchingly difficult, especially if that person knows what is happening. 

I don't have any answers. I do know that life is hard and unfair, and cancer and debilitating disease suck. I pray for sick children all the time. Now I will pray for their parents and doctors and for the strength and knowledge to make the best decisions for them.

And honestly? I will pray this is an issue we will never have to face here in the U.S. It was hard enough for me to sit back and contemplate the idea of not treating our five-year-old son at all for his terminal cancer. To have to help him decide to die would be another thing entirely.

This law is supposedly meant for teenagers (think "The Fault in Our Stars") who are, at times, young adults themselves. But they are still someone's child, and it still makes me sick to my stomach to think about. 

I wish this weren't even an issue. I wish no child or parent would ever have to consider this. 

What are your thoughts on euthanasia and terminally ill children?

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