Monthly Archives: January 2014

Belgian Child Euthanasia Bill Sparks Debate

The debate over euthanasia usually revolves around terminally ill adults.  Adults are presumed to be able to make rational, informed decisions about their quality of life and the possibility of ending it.  But in Belgium, this assumption of rationality is being considered in children.

The Belgian Senate approved a bill in December that would allow euthanasia to be administered to a child of any age who repeatedly requests that his or her life be ended.  The bill increases the scope of an existing euthanasia law passed in 2002, which requires that an adult person (1) is competent and conscious, (2) is repeatedly making the request to die, and (3) is suffering unbearably – physically or mentally – as a result of a serious and incurable disorder.  (BBC)  The bill passed in the Belgian Senate would extend the same criteria to children of any age.  There are further restrictions that would apply specifically to children, however:  under the bill, the child must understand what euthanasia is, and their parents and medical teams have to approve the child’s decision to die.  The child must also possess the “capacity of discernment” (a term left undefined in the bill) for his or her request to be considered.  (NYTimes)  The bill next goes to the House of Representatives, where it will likely be enacted.  (USA Today)

In support of the bill, sixteen leading Belgian pediatricians wrote a letter demanding the expansion of euthanasia rights to terminally ill children. They, along with other proponents of the bill, say that giving euthanasia options to terminally ill children is an act of compassion.  Their reasoning is that both children and adults suffer from the same terminal illnesses, so the right to die should equally extend to both groups.  Supporters also claim that terminally ill children are more psychologically mature than their healthy counterparts, which gives them the mental capacity necessary to make such an important decision.  (Deutsche Welle)

Opponents of the bill include religious communities and some bioethics experts.  The Catholic Church has come out in opposition of the bill (USA Today), and an alliance of Catholic, Muslim, Protestant, and Christian Orthodox representatives have published an open letter in opposition.  Carine Brochiner of the European Institute of Bioethics in Brussels equates the right to euthanasia with other rights in Belgium unavailable to children:  “A child cannot buy a house in Belgium.  A child cannot buy alcohol in Belgium.  And this law would allow a child to be killed.  And that is a real problem.”  (Deutsche Welle)  Private citizens are also voicing their opposition. Steve Forbes, the chairman of Forbes Media, published an article calling the practice “HitlerCare.”  (NewsMax)

If the bill passes, Belgium will become the first country to allow euthanasia in children without age restrictions.  Its neighbor to the north, the Netherlands, has long been labeled as the European country most supportive of euthanasia.  The Netherlands became the first country to legalize euthanasia in 2001, and before euthanasia was legalized, the practice was tolerated by government officials.  But even the Netherlands does not allow euthanasia for children under the age of twelve.  (Washington Times)

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California Law Requires Chefs to Wear Gloves

A California law (Section 113961 of the California Retail Food Code) that went into effect on January 1, 2014 prevents restaurant workers in the state from handling ready-to-eat food. (NBC Los Angeles, Inside Scoop SF)  The law was previously only a suggestion in the food safety code, and has now become a requirement.  (Inside Scoop SF)  This makes it difficult for establishments in the industry, such as delis and those serving sushi.  Additionally, the law impacts those cooks who work with breads, fresh fruits, vegetables, and any cooked parts of meals that must be put together for diners.  The law itself requires “chefs to wear single-use disposable gloves while working with prepared foods,” unless the establishment has attained previous approval from the local enforcement agency.  (NBC Los Angeles) Angelica Pappas, the spokeswoman for the California Restaurant Association, opined that the law was not unexpected, and that other states have similar rules, and California is simply catching up.

The purpose of the legislation that Governor Jerry Brown signed into law is to “curtail foodborne illnesses.” (LA Times)  However, this has caused many chefs in the state to say that the law is “confusing, ineffective, bad for the environment, and can compromise a final dish.” (LA Times)  In fact, Neal Fraser a chef based in the state, believes that the law could actually have the opposite impact of promoting food safety.  The Chef believes that the glove requirements will lead chefs to “not wash their hands” which then might increase food-related illness rather than to prevent it. (LA Times)  Jordan R. Berstein, an attorney who has been providing general counsel for restaurant clients, has attacked the law for its lack of clarity calling it a law that was intended to regulate fast food chains, but is now being applied to fine dining establishments. (LA Times, SCPR.org)

On the other than, not all chefs have such a problem with the law.  Niki Nakayama, who makes sushi at her restaurant, stated that “for the most part I use gloves through my whole preparation process and I have no problem wearing gloves for plating something.” (LA Times)  She too, however, stated that she did not know whether the cleanliness of the gloves would remain consistent, and whether it would actually achieve the law’s ultimate goal.  Aditionally, Mary C. Fitzgerald of Safe & Sound food safety consultants is in favor of the law and had stated that “it both raises awareness and raises the bar that everyone’s responsible to prevent foodborne illness.” (LA Times)

Like many restaurants, the law too will have a soft opening over the next six months meaning that restaurants who are not complying with the law will get only warnings rather than harsher violations on their inspection reports.  (LA Weekly, Inside Scoop SF)  The application for exception requires restaurants to show that they are not serving a “highly susceptible population.” (SCPR.org)  Despite this, no one at the Los Angeles County health department was available for comment regarding how specifically the department would seek to enforce regulations and afford exemptions.  (SCPR.org)

The new California law is yet another very interesting example of how the law has the power to impact our daily lives.  Though it is brand new, and therefore yet to be seen what impact the law will have on California restaurants and consumers, it is certain that the law has the potential to impact elements of the law, public health, and economics of the state.

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