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Children shouldn't have to choose to die

By Mal Fletcher - posted Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Last week, The Times featured the heart-warming story of Deryn Blackwell, a 14 year-old boy who having been told he would likely die within a short time is now, against the odds, making a remarkable recovery.

After the last of four bone marrow transplants in his treatment for a rare form of cancer, Deryn's parents were told that he was unlikely to survive beyond 50 days.

Deryn accepted his fate and was planning his own funeral. Today, though, he is relieved at the turn around in his condition and hopeful of a bright future.


The story strikes a chord at a time when British and other European news media are regularly reporting a growth of interest in assisted dying. The Belgian government recently voted to accept the practice for children.

The Netherlands, so often at the vanguard of ultra-liberal policies, was one of the first nations to rule that children could request assisted dying. Its law stipulates that children must be experiencing 'unbearable suffering' and that they must have made a 'reasoned decision' to die, with the support of their parents.

Such terms are open to considerable subjective interpretation. How does one measure 'unbearable suffering'? Are we happy for overworked medicos to make that decision? After all, what is unbearable to one individual may well be bearable by another, with proper palliative care.

By definition, teenagers have not yet reached the point of full maturity. By what criteria do we measure whether a teenager has made a carefully reasoned decision, especially on something that has such unalterable consequences?

In a Dutch study, a considerable percentage of people requesting assisted death said they were doing so not because of unbearable suffering, but because they feared the shame and humiliation their deterioration might bring in time.

It was not physical suffering that drew them to euthanasia, it was emotional trauma.


One wonders what might have happened to young Deryn and his future had euthanasia been offered him along the way.

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This article was first published on 2020Plus.

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About the Author

Mal Fletcher is a media social futurist and commentator, keynote speaker, author, business leadership consultant and broadcaster currently based in London. He holds joint Australian and British citizenship.

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