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Home arrow History arrow A Global History of Child Death: Mortality, Burial, and Parental Attitudes



The idea of relinquishing a child from life to avert excruciating pain is a difficult one for parents consider. For terminally ill children (and adults) palliative care only partially relieves pain. While near fatal doses of pain medication may be administered, children may suffer from dehydration and starvation, which may prolong life, possibly for weeks. At present, Belgium has become the first nation to legalize child euthanasia. Children under the age of eighteen, who are terminally ill and in intolerable pain, may advocate for their own deaths with the consent of their parents and doctor, provided they understand what euthanasia means.17 Since 2005, the Netherlands has recognized the Groningen protocol, which allows a child under the age of one to be euthanized under a particular set of criteria. Eduard Verhagen, a physician and a lawyer, explains that ending the life of a terminally infant is not a difficult process and is rather peaceful. About ten to fifteen cases of euthanasia have been reported in the Netherlands each year from 1997 to 2004. Since then only two cases have been reported, although there has been an increase in late term abortions. Many euthanasia cases involve children with spina bifada, which has been detectable with prenatal tests offered for free in the Netherlands since 2007. Once the disorder is detected, expectant parents may choose to terminate the pregnancy. Some doctors and critics note, however, that hopeless cases of spina bifada are not detectable until an infant is born.18

Proponents of child euthanasia argue that a terminally ill child is often endowed with the maturity of an adult and may be able to make a decision about ending his or her own life with support from parents and physician. Critics, however, are concerned that emotionally, physically, and financially exhausted parents of an ill child might coerce a child to make this decision in lieu of palliative care. Opponents to the Groningen protocol also note that parents and physicians cannot reliably determine the suffering of a child subjectively.19

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