The Dutch Health Minister, Edith Schippers, has earmarked almost 400,000 Euros for a study of whether to expand eligibility for euthanasia to children between 1 and 12. At the moment, children under 1 may be killed with the consent of their parents following criteria set out in the Groningen Protocols. Children older than 12 are already eligible.
After neighbouring Belgium passed legislation in 2014 enabling child euthanasia, doctors and activists in the Netherlands are keen to catch up.
The Dutch Paediatric Association (NVK) kicked off a debate on the topic last year. It strongly supports a change. At the moment euthanasia of a child between 2 and 12 is only possible by invoking the doctrine of “force majeure” in the Dutch criminal code, which means that the doctor feels compelled to do it as an emergency measure. But this still leaves him open to prosecution. The NVK believes that age is an arbitrary criterion and that euthanasia should be available for anyone with mental competence. Some children, even if they are under and 12 and desperately ill, are astonishingly rational.
A roundtable discussion at the Dutch Parliament amongst experts in medical care for children in January showed that there is a range of opinions on the topic, although most of the participants were broadly in favour of a change. The Royal Dutch Medical Association (KNMG) is in favour of studying the issue further.
Not all organisations at the roundtable wanted to amend the law. A Christian group, the NPV, pointed out that “the suffering of the parents should not be a justification for a request for termination of life of the child”. Their position was that “A society that does not protect its children loses its dignity. Let us commit to good palliative care and guidance to children - and their parents - in the last phase of life”.
A spokeswoman for the Dutch Association of Educationalists (NRC), Dr Miriam Vos, raised questions about what “hopeless and unendurable suffering”, the main criteria for euthanasia in the Netherlands, means for children. “Children younger than 12 rarely or never speak in terms of hopeless and unbearable suffering. Their verbal and nonverbal expressions may suggest this, but this is always interpreted by their doctor, parents and other health care workers.”
Although it has been called the world’s most dangerous idea, transhumanism probably provokes more ridicule than fear. Uploading one’s brain onto the internet or talk of thousand-year life spans seems to defy common sense.
Nonetheless, my theory is that transhumanism is the logical outcome of a lot of contemporary bioethical theory. So developments in transhumanism are worth paying attention to.
The biggest story at the moment is the quixotic campaign of the head of the Transhumanist Party, Zoltan Istvan, for president of the United States. He is a philosophy and religious studies graduate of Columbia University and has worked as a journalist for the National Geographic Channel.
Mr Istvan has been running a blog on the Huffington Post for a while about his campaign which aims to make the platform of his party more plausible. In the latest post he defines transhumanism as “the radical field of science that aims to turn humans into, for lack of a better word, gods”. So while transhumanism is resolutely atheistic, it has religious aspirations.
And unlike Richard Dawkins and other militant atheists, Istvan argues that our responsibility is to transcend evolution. He writes: “the human body is a mediocre vessel for our actual possibilities in this material universe. Our biology severely limits us. As a species we are far from finished and therefore unacceptable… Biology is for beasts, not future transhumanists.”
It’s a curious development. While many prominent scientific thinkers want to abolish God and treat man as one beast amongst many, transhumanists want to abolish evolution and recreate God (or gods).
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