Pediatricians report euthanasia requests for babies, teens

A survey of 1,050 pediatricians found that about 11 per cent of them (118) report being approached by children, teens, or their parents about euthanasia or assisted-suicide a total of 409 times.

The survey, conducted by the Canadian Paediatric Surveillance Program, a joint project of the Canadian Paediatric Society and the Public Health Agency of Canada, found that most conversations were exploratory although a total of 91 parents explicitly asked 45 doctors about obtaining euthanasia for their children.

Nearly half of these requests were for newborns less than one month old.

Nine pediatricians were approached by 17 minor patients about accessing euthanasia or assisted-suicide. Most requests were made by teens 14 or older.

A separate CPSP survey found that almost half of 574 pediatricians polled supported extending so-called Medical Aid in Dying to “mature minors” – those under 18 who are determined to have the capacity to make life and death decisions about their own care.

The most common cases for euthanasia requests include babies were severe neuro-degenerative disease’s, infants who cannot breathe on their own, and teenagers with cancer.

Dawn Davis, the principal investigator for the study and a pediatric palliative care specialist, told the Globe and Mail that the data “give a view into the real world” that families and physicians face.

Prior to the Justin Trudeau government’s introduction of a bill legalizing euthanasia, a select parliamentary committee recommended permitting assisted-suicide and euthanasia for “mature minors.” The government ignored the recommendation but vowed to re-examine the issue after the legislation was passed. Last year, the Prime Minister asked the Council of Canadian Academies to conduct reviews of expanding euthanasia in three cases: advance directives for people with degenerative conditions, for those with mental illness, and mature minors.

Dying with Dignity is campaigning for expanding euthanasia in all three instances.

Among jurisdictions with legal euthanasia, only Belgium and the Netherlands permit teenagers to be euthanized and only Belgium  allows infants to be killed medically.

The SPSP survey found that the majority of euthanasia inquiries were made on behalf of children younger than 13.

Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, says even supposedly mature minors are influenced by others and that “the very difficult question” of euthanasia in such cases is one “that should be left closed.”

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