"Belgium legalised the right to euthanasia for adults in 2002. Now the Senate has voted to extend the law to children who are terminally ill, and suffering unbearable physical pain. Supporters believe this would be a logical move. Opponents say it is insanity. An incurably sick child, a request to die, a lethal injection. For many people this is an unimaginable, nightmare scenario." (1)
I must say that I read this with considerable disquiet. The "slippery slope" is, of course, a fallacy in that it is not a foregone conclusion that events must follow from decisions made, but it does seem as though there is a progressive extension of euthanasia in Belgium which is of concern.
The reason for the changes are compassion. As Dr Gerlant van Berlaer says: "We are not playing God - these are lives that will end anyway. Their natural end might be miserable or very painful or horrifying, and they might have seen a lot of friends in institutions or hospitals die of the same disease. And if they say, 'I don't want to die this way, I want to do it my way,' and that is the only thing we can do for them as doctors, I think we should be able to do it."
The law says children must understand what euthanasia is, and their parents and medical teams have to approve the child's request to die. But it is difficult to say how much a child understands of the consequences, especially as this bill applies to children of any age. And what safeguards are there to ensure that children properly understand and are not being lead to give certain replies.
The case of Dr Marietta Higgs in Cleveland in 1987, where a large number children were misdiagnosed as having been abused by parents, and forcibly removed from parents is relevant here. The children were subjected to questioning, and what became apparent in hindsight is that they supplied the answers they wanted those questioning them to say. The lesson, which should have been known anyway, was that young children want to say the right thing, and seek approval from adults.
That is something that should be borne in mind when children are asked if they want to end their lives.
The Hidden Danger of Microsleep
"Almost half of male drivers admit to experiencing micro-sleeps at the wheel. What are they? It's a "horrifying" statistic, according to road safety charity Brake. Of 1,000 drivers it interviewed, 45% of men admitted to micro-sleeping while driving, as did 22% of women. But what does this mean?"
"Micro-sleep is an episode of light sleep lasting five to 10 seconds. The brain goes to sleep involuntarily and it is more likely to happen in a monotonous situation. People wake suddenly, often with a sharp jerk of the head. "Your eyelids start drooping and you start to lose contact with reality," says Prof Jim Horne, director of Loughborough University's Sleep Research Centre. "You're asleep for a few second, then wake up, often with a jolt." This sudden head jerk is how people commonly know they've had a micro-sleep as the brain doesn't remember such short naps." (2)
We don't have such long journeys in Jersey as in the UK, but I wonder if any accidents locally might be considered the result of microsleep. At 30 or 40 miles per hour, a few seconds of lost consciousness could be dangerous even over here. I've not seen any statistics which consider that as a probable cause, but the charge might well be put down to something else, like driving without due care and attention. Perhaps it is something which should be considered when assessing traffic accidents.
I have experienced the phenomena, but mine is fortunately not while driving, but after a good evening meal, when I am watching television, and nod off momentarily. As described above, I come away with a sudden neck jerk.
UK teenagers might have a reputation for binge drinking, but in reality the number of young people consuming alcohol has declined sharply. Why?
"There is nothing that says you can't go out and have fun without a drink," says Liam Brooks, 18. Since November he's been old enough to buy alcohol legally in pubs, but he's never touched a drop. "It's the mindset the media has that every 18-year-old goes out and gets drunk. Maybe people in the previous generation did. But nowadays, most people would go out to hang out."
"Just 12% of 11-to-15-year olds said they had drunk alcohol in the previous week in 2011 - down from 26% a decade earlier, according to National Health Service statistics. The proportion who said they had ever drunk alcohol fell from 61% to 45% over the same period. Among older teenagers and young adults, the pattern was the same. In 1998 71% of 16-to-26-year-olds said they'd had an alcoholic drink that week. By 2010 only 48% did so."
It's in sharp contrast with the middle aged who, as the Spectator's Fraser Nelson has observed, are spending more on alcohol than ever (3)
I wonder if Jersey's statistics buck the trend, or are in fact in keeping with it. While we are told of high levels of alcohol consumption in Jersey, what might be useful to see is comparative age-related statistics, of the kind provided by the NHS in the UK. Unless there is really good data available, the new drive to tackle excessive drinking could well be looking at the wrong age group.
Fraser Nelson, writing in "The Spectator", comments:
"The middle-aged are having more fun than ever — spending extraordinary amounts on booze, restaurants and designer clothes. Today's young Brits are, by contrast, the most sober and sensible in living memory, keeping their heads down, their wallets closed and their minds focused on the mountain of debt that awaits them. We are now living in Ab Fab Britain."
"Even trying cigarettes has lost its place as a rite of passage; Prince Charles's recent admission that he'd tried smoking aged 11 dates him. Twenty years ago, three in five pupils admitted to having tried smoking. Now it's just one in five. And they're more censorious — the number of pupils who think 'It's OK to try a cigarette at least once' has fallen from 54 per cent to 31 per cent over the past decade. Smoking behind the bike sheds is more likely to mark you out as a dysfunctional freak than a daring rebel. (4)
This may run counter to the narrative promoted by the local media, of young people drinking being the greatest problem, but it is all to easy to be caught up in a narrative which is profoundly misleading. What is needed are the comparative age demographics.
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