Belgium already has one of the most aggressive euthanasia laws in the world, and now lawmakers in Belgium have extended permission for euthanasia to children. CNN reports here on a law that allows doctors to take active steps to euthanize older children who consent.

Belgium legalized euthanasia in 2002 for those in “constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering that cannot be alleviated.” Minors were included in the original proposals but were left out of the final legislation for political reasons.

The new bill would extend the “right to die” to those under the age of 18 only under certain strict conditions, including that the child is judged able to understand what euthanasia means. Consent of parents or guardians must also be given.

The CNN reporter then give several examples of the hard cases where parents had to watch their little ones die of a painful and debilitating disease. But hard cases, as they say, make bad law. While it is terrible to watch a child suffer and die slowly, it is also true that modern medical technology allows us to alleviate pain and ease suffering to a remarkable extent. But this is not the real question.

What we are seeing is an extension of a law that gives state authorization to medical killing. They say that consent must be given by the child, but what is consent and at what age can a child be expected to give real consent? Most people–not only a children–being pressured by medical staff and family–will agree to have their life terminated if they are convinced that dying would be the easier way for all.

It is happening already. One pediatrician said,

“Doctors do terminate lives, of children as well as adults,” he said. “But today it is done in, let’s say, a ‘gray zone,’ or in the dark, because it is illegal.”

Other doctors have disagreed:

175 pediatricians signed an open letter Thursday urging more time for reflection before any decision is made.

The letter argues that the law “responds to no real demand” and that most medical teams caring for terminally ill children would recognize that none of their patients has made a spontaneous and voluntary demand for euthanasia.

Meanwhile, medical advances mean that effective palliative care is available and that children do not suffer as they approach death. Extending the “right to die” to minors will only add to the stress and pain of families at a difficult time, it said.

The letter also questions how any objective judgment can be made on a child’s ability to understand what’s at stake.

Most of all what the doctors and lawmakers are missing is rock solid, uncompromising respect for human life. Invariably doctors will make life and death choices, but when active euthanasia is an option the death choices become ever increasingly easy and inevitable.

Once it is determined that it is better for some terminally ill  people to die quickly, it becomes irresistible to conclude that all terminally ill people should be euthanized as soon as possible. The idea that terminally ill people will not be pressured to choose euthanasia is naive in the extreme. As soon, therefore, that a terminal illness is diagnosed why not administer the poison, and if this is the right choice, then why should it be voluntary? Indeed, I suspect that in many cases already, where the terminally ill person has no one to defend them, lives are already being quietly snuffed out.

Beneath this brutality is the calm, but chilling face of utilitarianism. Here is a long post on utilitarianism I wrote for the book Disorientation: How to Go to College Without Losing Your Mind Utilitarianism is the philosophy that what is good is what works, or what is efficient at bringing about the greatest good for the greatest number. This shallow, godless philosophy ends up in the killing fields because the utilitarian does not believe in heaven, hell or the afterlife. Therefore why not kill those who are in pain and suffering? For that matter, why not kill the mentally deficient, the physically disabled and the socially unfit?

You can see where it leads: if suffering people can be pulled like weeds, then why not deficient people and if misfits, why not social misfits?

The most chilling thing about all this is that it is done by smiling people who think they are being nice and kind. So they go about creating their new social cleansing with the lawmaker’s vote, the general consensus and the efficient men in white coats.

I’m with Flannery O’Conner and Walker Percy who said, “Tenderness leads to the gas chambers.”