Children’s charities supporting proposals to lower the age of consent for assisted suicide are on the edge of a moral abyss, says Peter Kearney
While the Scottish referendum campaign has dominated news headlines in recent months, a potentially chilling development in the campaign to allow assisted suicide has escaped the notice of many.
In submissions to the Scottish Parliament, a number of high-profile children’s charities have backed calls to lower the proposed age of consent for assisted suicide from 16. Campaigners fighting proposals to legalise assisted suicide have responded with outrage to those pressure groups who want to extend the scope of a bill before MSPs to children.
The anti-euthanasia campaign group Care Not Killing has described the idea as “monstrous” and “unthinkable” and frankly it is hard not to agree with them. Yet it is proposed in Scotland by the Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights (Together) and the J Kenyon Mason Institute for Medicine, Life Sciences and Law at the University of Edinburgh.
Many, if not most people, will be baffled that such an idea can be advanced, not least from one organisation purporting to represent the interests of children.
When Belgium changed its existing euthanasia laws to encompass children, there was alarm around the world. The example of Belgium shows that stepping along the path of killing patients is a voyage into an inevitable and heinous moral abyss.
If assisted suicide proposals lead so quickly to calls for children to be considered for assisted suicide, then who could possibly be fully safe under such a regime? This is a dangerous concept.
In its submission to MSPs on the Assisted Suicide Bill by the group known as “Together” – which includes Save The Children, Barnardo’s and Children 1st among its members – suggests that the health and sport committee, which is dealing with the assisted suicide proposals, “reflects on international examples of comparable legislation, such as the recent amendment to Belgium’s 2002 euthanasia law”.
In doing so, they indicate support for the lower age limit of 16 to be removed from the existing bill and for children to be allowed to ask for assisted suicide whenever they are judged mature enough.
They actually say in their submission, that “the health and sports committee should note that terminal illnesses do not discriminate based on the age of a person and, accordingly, neither should health care”, adding, “… a child who is capable of forming his or her own views should be assured the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child.
“The views of a child must be given due weight in accordance with their age and maturity.”
Apart from the novel idea of describing the process of putting someone to death as “health care” these are truly chilling words. These organisations established to defend and protect children appear to be doing the exact opposite.
When they suggest that MSPs should “reflect on international examples of comparable legislation, such as the recent amendment to Belgium’s 2002 euthanasia law”, we are entitled to ask how such sentiments can be described as related in any way to child protection.
In its submission to MSPs, the Mason Institute, based at the University of Edinburgh and located within the School of Law, says: “While the age limit of 16 might be appropriate now, future reviews of the legislation should consider whether those under 16 who can exercise their autonomy should also be allowed to make use of the law.
“If it is accepted that the so-called ‘mature minor’ is able to both consent and refuse care under the Age of Legal Capacity (Scotland) Act 1991, then legal consistency would expect this to be extended to assisted suicide.”
I’m certain most Scots will be alarmed and ashamed of what it being said and proposed.
That being the case, it is crucially important that they make their views known, loud and clear to their elected representatives and make sure that assisted suicide legalisation in all its forms, but particularly the suggestion that we kill children, are rejected as we strive to hold on to our reputation as a civilised society.
• Peter Kearney is director of the Catholic Media Office www.scmo.org