Belgium has become the first country in the world to abandon age limits for euthanasia. It will allow terminally-ill children to end their own lives. Adult euthanasia has been legal since 2002, and the reform has broad popular and political support, although it is opposed by religions.
“The new law says the child must have ‘a capacity for discernment’ and be conscious at the time of the request. They must also be in
‘a hopeless medical situation’ which ‘will cause death in the short term’. Counselling by doctors and psychiatrists is also mandatory, as is parental approval,” says euronews’ James Franey in Brussels.
“What has just happened will allow us to take the humanitarian approach all the way for our patients, these young patients for whom nothing more can be done,” said Socialist Senator Philippe Mahoux, who sponsored the adult legislation in 2002.
The vote in parliament was nearly two to one in favour, 86 to 44,
with 12 abstentions. The children have to be terminally ill, whereas the adult law allows euthanasia in cases of “unbearable suffering”.
“An infant has obviously no capacity for discernment, nor does a child. As for teenagers, specialised psychiatrists themselves say that it’s extremely difficult, because children or teenagers at that age, do not always realise that death means that they will never come back,” said the leader in parliament of the Christian Democrats Catherine Fonck.
Critics say the law’s content does not take into account the difficulties of real-life situations. The vote attracted very little press attention in Belgium, but it has hit the front pages around the world.