In some countries on our planet, it is already possible to kill children. A horror protected by so-called civil laws, which might spread to other parts of the world. As it happened in Canada, where a member of UNICEF, the subsidiary body of the United Nations for the protection and promotion of children’s and adolescents’ rights in the world, which aims – among other things – to contribute to the improvement of their living conditions, committed an action that went against his own principles: he invoked child euthanasia. “Assisted death for competent adults was provided for by law, hence a question arises spontaneously: why not for other groups of people such as mature minors?” asked Marvin Bernstein, philanthropist, lawyer and Chief Policy Advisor of UNICEF Canada, in the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee of the Canadian Senate. “This question demands an answer and we, as a non-governmental organization, cannot but support the extension of this right.”
Considering that UNICEF’s “mission” is to defend and apply the UN Convention on the Rights of children and adolescents – whose Article 6 sanctions “the child’s right to life, survival and development” -, this is rather strange request. According to the Convention, “States parties’ should ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child”, also through cooperation. Child euthanasia, already approved in Belgium and Holland, might become lawful in Canada as early as in June, but following a precise “scheme divided into stages.” The Canadian judicial system would provide for the “law of death” first “for all competent adults, then, after three years of studies on the possible effects of this law on minors” and on how to avoid “manipulation” and ensure “precise safeguards”, also to minors. According to UNICEF, this law “should not be extended to all children, but only to mature minors.”
It is a hypocritical proposal because there are no objective, scientific criteria that allow determining whether a child can be “mature.” The following question comes to one’s mind: why study the “possible effects” of the law on the little ones? What serious effects caused by a law can be worse than death? Bernstein said child euthanasia is “consistent with the Convention on the Rights of Children.” According to his intentions, children should be able to be killed also in the absence of a terminal illness, and even for psychological reasons. A senator’s question shocked those who were present: “Shall we kill a 16-year-old depressed, according to this law?” “Yes,” was Bernstein’s answer. How can this possibly fit into the “mission?” A slap in the face of the UN Convention on the Rights of Children and Adolescents, and all its principles.
To date, UNICEF is not the only NGO committed to demanding the “right” to die for children. In 2014, Save the Children had asked Scotland to extend assisted suicide to minors because “terminal illnesses do not discriminate people based on their age, neither should healthcare.
The Church spoke out against this request. “An applicant for euthanasia and assisted suicide cannot receive the last rites,” were the words of the Archbishop of Ottawa, Terrence Prendergast, who reminded that priests must dissuade the faithful from committing suicide. Certainly, priests should offer their assistance and pray with them and their families, but “asking to be killed is a seriously disordered action, refusal of hope, which the last rites recall and try to offer.”
In Canada, legislation in this matter was necessary after February 2015, when the Supreme Court of the country has declared unconstitutional the “prohibition of assisted suicide” contained in the Criminal Code. Referring to the Belgian and Dutch laws, Canada will give the right to euthanasia and assisted suicide to “whoever is afflicted by physical or psychological suffering that is constant and intolerable for the person.” This means, in fact, that it is not necessary to be suffering from a terminal illness or a tumor, also a treatable disorder such as depression may be “a compelling reason to appeal to medically assisted death.”
Of more immediate concern, from an ethical point of view, is the fact that the bill does not provide for conscientious objection. Physicians would be constrained to partake in the process leading to the patient’s death. At most, a doctor may give the patient the direct contact of another doctor willing to perform euthanasia. All clinics that receive funding from the state, even religious institutions, will be forced to provide free lethal injection.
Gustavo Zagrebelsky, Italian jurist and constitutional judge from 1995 to 2004, said in a 2011 in an interview with the Italian daily “Il Fatto Quotidiano“: “When a person, nourished by ideals, sees that everything is useless, (s)he loses hope. Whereas cases of suicide are mostly caused by injustice, depression, or loneliness, suicide as a social fact makes us face a question. Can a society say “fine, get out of the way, I will help you do so?” Is it not too easy? Is its duty not the opposite: give hope to everyone? The primary right of every person is to be able to live a meaningful life, and this corresponds to the society’s duty to create the necessary conditions.” It is true also for those who have a serious illness: “Society and its facilities have the duty to cure, when possible and at least alleviate suffering, when it is not. I may not want to be cured or treated in a certain way, even when this choice means death, but this is not the same as wanting to die.” Life is the fundamental biological asset of every person. Everything else derives from it. Without life, there are no rights.