By Heidi Munson
A report was released last week giving some preliminary results based on surveys sent to pediatricians. From the CBC article:
“Almost half the respondents surveyed (46 per cent) said they were in favour of extending assisted death to mature minors ‘experiencing progressive or terminal illness or intractable pain.’
“But fewer pediatricians (29 per cent) believed medically assisted death should be available to children or youth with “an intolerable disability.” One-third opposed assisted death for patients under 18 years of age under any circumstances.
“Thirty-five pediatricians said they had “exploratory discussions” with a total of 60 patients under the age of 18 in the preceding year. Nine pediatricians received “explicit requests” for assisted death from a total of 17 minors.
“Out of the 1,050 pediatricians who responded, 118 said they had exploratory discussions about assisted death with the parents of sick children, involving 419 kids in all.
“Forty-five respondents said they had received explicit requests for assisted death from parents, involving a total of 91 children. More than half of the requests involved a child under a year old.”
We need to keep in mind that these parents were having these conversations while it is not currently legally permitted. When and if it becomes law, a certain level of moral acceptance always follows, so there is no doubt these numbers would rise significantly.
At the outset we can all acknowledge that no one—ever—wants to be in this position. We all have compassion on suffering children and their parents. As a parent myself, I thank God Almighty that I have never had to endure watching my child suffer in such a way.
At some point, however, I think the question needs to be asked: Is anything wrong with anything?
Here in the United States we’re not currently facing any such Sophie’s Choice, but the people of Canada likely soon will be, and we’re often not far behind.
Here we haven’t entirely banished God from our national consciousness—yet—and there, too, Canada is further down that road. We still pay occasional lip service to some traditional acknowledgement of Him—usually after a tragedy, and occasionally at Christmas and Easter. Like a mascot.
But with tacit rejection of God and His moral laws, how do we make decisions fraught with such extreme pain?
Influential agnostic British philosopher, Bertrand Russell, when asked how to judge between good and bad answered, “On the basis of feeling, what else?”
Is that it? Is that what we’re going to go on for moral decision-making? God, help us. (That was an actual prayer.)
Here are some problems I see with this:
First, even if you disregard God and His authority over all life and, therefore, believe adults have the right to take their own lives, please acknowledge the slippery slope of where this has led and where it may lead.
The Netherlands were the first to pass doctor assisted suicide, and that led to seniors being fearful to go into hospitals, not knowing whether or not they’d come back out (alive). So, yes, that has happened. And now we’re talking about children.
Can we admit that people are imperfect and don’t always make the best decisions? Sometimes we make decisions before we have other facts which might cause us to choose differently.
Do we think children are in a great position to make literal life and death choices? Have they acquired wisdom? Good judgment? Knowledge of how it would affect everyone around them? Or would their choice be solely based on the pain they’re suffering now?
Of course it would.
What about putting it in the hands of their parents who, hopefully, would have wisdom, good judgment, etc. Why would we do that to parents who are themselves suffering so greatly watching their child suffer, wishing there was anything—anything—they could do about it.
But now they would be forced to decide the fate of their own child? What if their son begged them for death, knowing they were the ones who had to decide? If that violated their conscience, they would be in the position of not only having to watch him in pain day after day, but they would know it was their decision that kept them there.
Speaking of conscience, what about the guilt parents will be racked with if they make the decision to end their child’s life? No matter how merciful they thought the decision was, they will be forced to live for the rest of their lives knowing that they were the ones who chose. It is not kind to put people who are already suffering in that position.
But now that we’ve untied ourselves from our moral moorings, these are the decisions we’re increasingly faced with.
So I’ll ask it again: Is anything wrong with anything? And on what basis do we make that determination? On the basis of feelings, like Bertrand Russell?
We’d better figure it out soon.