I have a daughter who’s eight years younger than a friend’s. My friend, therefore, has become a kind of authority on what to expect a little bit down the road. When my Alexandra became a teenager, he warned: “Right now your daughter knows you are the biggest nerd in the world. But she’ll be amazed how much you grow up in the next few years.”
For those of us with kids “‘twixt twelve and twenty,” we know just how conflicted those years are. As a mother in a “Law and Order” episode put it, “my daughter has the body of a woman and the judgment of a child.” One foot in childhood, one foot in the adult world, striving to be one while still the other, leaving one stage but not yet at the other. It’s an awkward age.
I guess the problem is … my kid isn’t Belgian.
The Belgian Senate’s Justice and Social Affairs Committees are now considering legislation expanding the country’s already permissive euthanasia laws to allow minors to kill themselves in cases of illness. There are two proposals up for review. One would allow somebody 15 or older to elect euthanasia. The other would set the bar at 12. Although various parties are fighting among themselves, there is some expectation that a consensus may be reached before legislators’ summer vacation.
According to the newspaper La Libre, one committee member suggests that a fifteen year old can “make a decision autonomous from his parents,” while another thinks a twelve year old has “a capacity for discernment.” One sage opined, however, that “until seven or eight years of age, the child does not perceive the definitive character of death.” (Perhaps if we introduced appropriate socialization into preschool ? ? ? ? )
Most parents would wonder whether any kid at twelve is anywhere near capable of making life-determinative, much less life-ending, choices. But, in the wonderful world of the culture of death, kids have amazing capacities. President Obama, for example, thinks a kid is quite capable of taking the “Morning-After” Pill (Plan B) without medical supervision (and probably without parental knowledge or consent, either). Planned Parenthood, that paragon of public service standing athwart history resisting the efforts of those who would “turn back the clock,” knows that failing to give minors unbridled access to state-funded abortions (without their parents knowing anything about it) is all that keeps America safe from a flood of Kermit Gosnells. And now, in Belgium, children’s “rights” are apparently imperiled unless children have a right to … kill themselves.
The debate is happening, of course, because of what I like to call The New York Times “inevitability” argument: every time we stand on the cusp of a brave new world, the Grand Dame always assures us that trying to avoid falling down the slippery slope is futile because “progress” will “inevitably” lead us—kicking and screaming or gently—into that good night (to borrow Dylan Thomas). As Dr. Dominique Biarent (the guy who wonders about eight year olds “perceiving the definitive character of death”) admits: “It’s clear that euthanasia is practiced among minors, and we all know it.” It’s a dirty little secret … but we’re a little scared of the occasionally zealous prosecutor who might have issues with …. slitting newborns’ necks, administering fatal injections to twelve year olds, etc.
Of course, while we pretend that our extraordinarily mature twelve year olds can rationally decide to commit suicide, Belgian lawmakers may also debate another provision. Given their survival chances, premature infants from 24-26 weeks or babies “having no chance of survival” at birth might also be euthanized. Proponents admit that among 253 children who died just after birth, 63% of the cases represented euthanasia, primarily by interrupting or denying care. These cases most likely represent decisions to discriminate against handicapped or sick newborns, withholding or denying them treatment on quality of life considerations. Many countries, after all, are on the way to “eliminating” Downs Syndrome by eliminating people with Downs Syndrome, usually (although not always) prenatally. But 7% of the children in that study who died just after birth involved “doctors having administered an active substance” (e.g., giving a lethal injection). They were killed. We just re-entitle it an “altruistic murder” or a “post-birth abortion.”
In a world that feigns care for children and society’s responsibility towards them, Wesley Smith observes that “[t]reating a child like a sick horse is what passes for “compassion” these days.” Reacting to the Giubilini-Minerva article advocating “post-birth abortion,” Princeton’s Robert George was blunter: he simply called it “madness.” Rather than resigning to that madness, however, we might well “rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Even if some folks think outrage is déclassé.
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John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) was formerly associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey.
“Euthanasie des mineurs: difficile de prévoir un âge légal,” La Libre, February 20, 2013, available at: http://www.lalibre.be/actu/belgique/article/798403/euthanasie-des-mineurs-difficile-de-prevoir-un-age-legal.html (accessed June 11, 2013, 1400 GMT)(translations mine).
 Michael Shear and Pam Belluck, “Obama to End Effort to Restrict Morning After Pill,” New York Times, June 10, 2013, available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/11/us/in-reversal-obama-to-end-effort-to-restrict-morning-after-pill.html (accessed June 11, 2013, 1400 GMT).
 “Des euthanasies sont déjà pratiquées sur des enfants,” available at: http://www.lalibre.be/actu/belgique/article/798457/des-euthanasies-sont-deja-pratiquees-sur-des-enfants.html (accessed June 11, 2013, 1415 GMT).
 There are, of course, “dirty little secrets” that can be discretely revealed—like “we should legalize X because we are all doing it anyway”—and others—like “if the public really knew what Kermit Gosnell did they might start thinking about America’s unrestricted abortion license”—which should be scrupulously safeguarded through a rigid media blackout. The secret behind dirty little secrets apparently lies in when, how, and to what purpose to leak them.
 “Euthanasie des mineurs,” cited above.
 On “altruistic murder,” see “Un geste qui évoque ‘la meurtre altruiste,” Le Soir, March 5, 2013, http://archives.lesoir.be/%AB-ses-enfants-toujours-sa-priorite-%BB-un-geste-qui_t-20130305-02AHJF.html (accessed June 11, 2013, 1430 GMT), where the author claims that on average “a child is killed every five days” in France out of infanticide motives (translation mine). See also Olivier Mouton, “Faut-il élargir la loi sur l’euthansie? Oui ‹Répondons aux mineurs qui souffrent›,” Le Soir, January 15, 2013, available at: http://archives.lesoir.be/faut-il-elargir-la-loi-sur-l-8217-euthanasie-amorce-oui_t-20130115-028KEK.html (accessed June 13, 2013, 0315 GMT).
On “post-birth abortion,” see Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva, “After-Birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?” Journal of Medical Ethics (2011), available at: http://jme.bmj.com/content/early/2012/03/01/medethics-2011-100411.full (accessed May 19, 2013, 0140 GMT).
 Wesley J. Smith, “Child Euthanasia Coming to Belgium,” National Review Online, June 10, 2013, available at: http://www.nationalreview.com/human-exceptionalism (accessed June 11, 2013, 1440 GMT).
 Robert P. George, “Response to “Is the Pro-Choice Position for Infanticide ‘Madness?’”Journal of Medical Ethics, 39 (2013): 302, available at http://jme.bmj.com/content/39/5/302.full?sid=51f368a8-0b99-4c32-8bbb-2b32ac88bed8 (accessed May 25, 2013, 1600 GMT).
 On the demise of outrage as an appropriate response to certain contemporary trends, see William J. Bennett, The Death of Outrage (New York: Free Press, 1998).