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?
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.
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.