Keeping the Faith

“The Doctors Were Wrong; Our Son Lives”. Child Euthanasia Would Have Robbed This Family of Nine Wonderful Months… and Counting.

Whatever you do, don’t move to Belgium.  Its chocolates may be unsurpassed, its boutique breweries may be consummate but its laws are downright barbaric.  I allude to this speck of a country’s recent decision to legalise euthanasia for terminally ill children of any age.  You heard right.  Child euthanasia.  Any age.

Adult euthanasia became legal in Belgium in 2002 and neighbouring Holland has allowed child euthanasia, with a minimum age of 12 years, for some time now.  Sounds a lot like a gradient with a slick and shifty surface.

But how would I know what it’s like?  How can I judge when I’ve never been in the agonising situation of mothering a terminally ill child?

Fair call.

Launceston parents Rebecca and Kyron Fogarty know that their son Leo would have been a prime candidate, were they living in Belgium.  From the age of 14 months, Leo has undergone radiation treatment and chemotherapy in an attempt to obliterate the cancerous tumour in his tummy.  Any semblance of normalcy was upended for this family, and stints in Melbourne for treatment were part of the bumpy road.

The lovely Fogarty family.  Photo credit: Grazi Ferrari Photography.

The lovely Fogarty family. Photo credit: Grazi Ferrari Photography.

Nine and a half months ago, three-year-old Leo was sent home to die.  The oncologist’s diagnosis was that, due to the type and location of Leo’s tumour, he would die a slow and very painful death.

“It was a horrifying prospect,” Rebecca told me last week, “but it was also wrong.  Only weeks later Leo was perfectly well and not on any medication at all.  Only an MRI reveals the tumour is still present, but it isn’t behaving like the experts thought it would and isn’t making Leo sick.  It’s not impacting Leo’s life now at all.”

I asked Rebecca whether a child euthanasia law like that available in Belgium would have impacted the decisions they made in Leo’s treatment.

“I am so glad the option of euthanasia wasn’t available to us because the pressure to protect Leo from additional pain and suffering would have been enormous. We were also exhausted and terrified, desperate and grieving,” she said.

Belgian nurse Sonja Develter, who has cared for some 200 children in the final stages of their lives since 1992, said she opposed the law.  “In my experience as a nurse, I never had a child asking to end their life,” Ms Develter told Reuters before the vote.  Requests for euthanasia frequently came from parents, she added.

Clearly it’s not only the children who are vulnerable in such situations.

“Traumatised parents will do pretty much whatever the oncologist and nurses suggest or imply and with a general fear of suffering, the current hospital bed shortages and no hope, it would be very easy for parents to talk their child into something like this and think they were doing the right thing,” Rebecca shared with me.

Rebecca and Kyron have a robust faith in God that has been their rudder through what has seemed like a dark and impenetrable storm.  It means they would have been protected from making such a decision.  The Bible states clearly that “we are not our own” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) and that God will help us through all suffering (Romans 5:3-5, Matthew 11:28, 1 Corinthians 10:13).

The Fogartys are living proof.  Living, breathing, fooling-around-like-all-three-year-olds-do proof that medicine is sometimes wrong and God is always bigger.

“I feel sick to think that Leo might have missed out on all the joys of the past nine months because of fear that turned out to be baseless,” Leo’s strong mummy shared.

“We don’t know what is going to happen in the future but we know that even the most dismal predictions and terrible odds can be wrong.”

Follow Leo’s story on Facebook, here.

First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday February 24, 2014.


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9 Comments

  1. Phil Heaton says

    A life, from the moment a heartbeat is present, should and must be protected by law, whether in the womb or not. Any destruction of that life is genocide because of an individual’s preferance. How is this any different to Hitler’s Nazi’s only 60 odd years ago?
    This isn’t about doing what’s right for the child – it’s all about people trying to cling onto the last sembalance of free choice in a world where there is very little and, lack of faith and pure selfishness.
    I have watched people treat children like their sole ‘exclusive’ possessions. They forget that come late teens, these children become young, free and independantly legal entities. How can society tolerate legalised ‘extermination’ ? My God we have short memories – how many people were killed in battle to get rid of people who, because people aren’t perfect, could justify ‘putting it down’ mentality. Millions is the answer.
    At this stage I am disgusted with some of my fellow man for even contemplating the idea. This is no different to Soddom & Gomorrah – and we all know what happened to them.

    • Curious says

      So you’re vegetarian, then Phil? Or are lives only important when they resemble your own being?

      • Phil Heaton says

        We weren’t discussing euthanasia for animals were we? And yes, I’ve given lots of ‘less than perfect’ animals a good life too.
        Think about it – the world is is very close to cures of diseases at a genetic level (which would attribute the lion’s share if ‘terminal’ illnesses). Why consider this now?

      • Phil Heaton says

        Also, what was being considered was being able to ‘terminate’ children up to 12 years old – not just for terminally ill people, but also children with Down Syndrome, spinal conditions and a host of other problems that could “potentially cause stress to the parent”.
        Can you see yourself telling your son or daughter that because you aren’t coping with them, they have to ‘go away’.
        My Lord, what is this world coming to?
        No human should ever…be given that right, or choice.

      • allyrussell says

        Can you honestly say you believe a human life is worth no more than that of a cow? Or a rat? Or an ant for that matter? Your question is a red herring (which of course you wouldn’t eat).

      • Phil Heaton says

        I don’t understand what either ‘curious’ or Ally’s points are. Why is there parallels being drawn to animals and vegetarians?
        And why is my question a ‘red herring’? I was just saying that abortions beyond a certain amount of weeks should be illegal and, terminating a child because of a ‘terminal’ or not so condition, as being suggested up to 12 years old should be legalised, and solely up to the decision of the parent.

  2. so a child that has a better than expected outcome, who is not suffering extreme pain and suffering, who would not have qualified for euthanasia laws in any country in the world is a reason to not allow euthanasia…… wow I wish I could believe in fairy tales too. This is a great story for the family and I am truly happy that the child is living well but there are so few of those results compared to the countless people old and young who suffer immeasurably.

  3. These laws in Belgium are ill-conceived and have been introduced by politicians who don’t realise just how precious our lives are.  People are different from animals, because God has made people in his own image.

    Thanks for writing about this, Claire, and giving us a really good example of how persevering through suffering is a good thing.

    God allows people to suffer so that we might realise our need for him and turn to him in faith and rely on him to provide for our needs.

    Trials are given to us so that we may ‘glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.’ (Romans 5:3-4)

    God also told the Apostle Paul that ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ (2 Corinthians 12:9)

  4. John Wigg says

    Cancer in an infant is never a matter for easy pious platitudes. Those who tell us death is [they mean “always has been”] “natural” seem to believe pain and suffering somehow lead to an “unnatural” existence – a “living death” which demands, in their view, the hastened death of the sufferer.

    Belgian legislators’ love affair with euthanasia places too much faith in an alleged universal goodness of human nature. Even with the best will and “legal safeguards” in the world, there will always be people who will use such laws to rationalise their own ethically ambivalent motives for “eliminating” inconveniently vulnerable relatives or patients. Dead people do not bring law suits for deprivation of life and liberty – Others must bring their killers to justice.

    Those who take the Bible’s account of the history of humanity and nature seriously know that death has not always been natural. They know that humanity is no longer naturally innocent, no longer morally perfect.

    Death, which some tell us is “only natural”, has a supernatural dimension – No-one can honestly say, “When you’re dead, that’s it.”. Bodily death is not merely an “exit”. It opens the door to another life – one that is either “the life everlasting” or “the second death”…

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