The Ultimate Sacrifice?

Wow, so I just read that the Netherlands is set to approve euthanasia for children under twelve years old. Again, just wow on so many levels. The first being that this is perhaps some of the most liberal thinking in the world on euthanasia next to that of Belgium, which became the first country to allow voluntary child euthanasia in 2014. Since then, they have reported two deaths of children in this age range.

Wow, because for a parent to have to consider never mind be willing to let their child go this way is perhaps the ultimate sacrifice any parent may ever have to make. And unless you’re in that situation, it’s hard to say what anyone would be prepared to do.

Wow, because for a child to choose to surrender themselves to what they call “active termination of life” rather than continue suffering until they die naturally is just an incredible feat of human capability. Especially for someone so young. I have to assume the child must be given the opportunity to consent to consider and/or undergo euthanasia where they are capable. At least, I certainly hope so. And if not, just another wow. What would you do as a parent if you were in this situation?

|As a bereaved parent myself, while I am grateful that I was spared having to face this sort of decision, I have been friends with and read about parents who have had to decide whether to take their child off life support where death was imminent. While everyone I knew or read about struggling with this decision concerned an adult child, their child’s age certainly didn’t make the decision any easier. In all these cases after being taken off life support, their child died quickly from natural causes. Where euthanasia is concerned, I’m not so sure this is always the case. The point of euthanasia is to end one’s suffering immediately.

Wow, because for the Netherlands and Belgium to have the guts as politicians, medical professionals and agonized parents to push this conversation and ultimately new law is stunning. At least, it is to me from where I sit on a perch that has been super lonely, considering that nobody really wants to talk about child loss in western culture.

Discussing child loss in the context of euthanasia is about as bold as it gets in terms of forcing all of us, bereaved or not, to acknowledge that kids die. Everyday. Sure we know this. We just don’t want to talk about it. And I can say this with 100% certainty, having lived as a bereaved mom for fifteen years now.

While my daughter was twenty-two when she died by suicide, I’ve met enough bereaved parents to know that the pain of losing a child at any age and the isolation we live with as bereaved parents is pretty much the same for all of us. Within a group of us together we don’t feel too different from one another, no matter how old our child was or how they died. We’re just there to help and support each other.

Wow, because like it or not, this type of news article wherever it appears around the world is sure to stir up opinion on the topic of euthanasia in general, and for sure, euthanasia for children under twelve already available in Belgium (who knew?) and soon the Netherlands. How much we care and how long the topic stays in people’s minds is another matter, though.

Whether we believe that euthanasia is right or wrong, everyone is entitled to their opinion. And in my view, what anyone chooses to think is an opinion that will be formed from imagination if we haven’t walked in the parent’s shoes who must actually decide.

What’s important is that this news will start conversations that will force all of us to think about the fact that everyday around the world children are dying for any number of reasons. Like it or not.

Of course, there isn’t a day goes by in my world that I don’t think about children dying. It’s a normal part of my existence since losing my daughter. But I can also say that her death has allowed me to think a lot about the fact that while we aren’t at all comfortable with our babies, children and young people dying, age maybe doesn’t really have anything to do with death. The death of every babe, child and young person leaves all of us with much to contemplate and learn from. And this is maybe what is more important to focus on rather than our fear and pain from the eventual loss itself.

I’ve found it very comforting over the years hearing or reading about the many beautiful transitions of kids and youth from people who have worked in palliative care. Often, the kids are resigned to and much calmer facing their death than the loved ones they are leaving behind and worry about. It’s as if they know they have finished what they came here to do and will be okay wherever they are going. There’s a LOT we can all learn from any child in this situation.

While the death of any child feels like a sacrifice for every parent, I have to wonder whether the greater burden and ultimate sacrifice may be in having to choose to let a child leave us early or suffer unintentionally, for whatever reason. Not least, that saying goodbye to a child is the hardest thing any parent will ever be asked to do, no matter how they leave us.

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Feature and Butterfly Photos by Ray Hennessy on Unsplash; Cat Photo by Karina Vorozheeva on Unsplash