Years after legalizing euthanasia for adults, Belgium’s parliament extended the right to die to terminally ill children of any age Thursday, despite opposition from the church and some pediatricians.
After months of heated debate, the House of Representatives adopted legislation making the largely Catholic country the second after the Netherlands to allow euthanasia for children, and the first to lift all age restrictions. The Senate approved the proposal in December.
Belgium is one of three countries in Europe to allow euthanasia for adults.
“It is not a question of imposing euthanasia on anyone … but of allowing a child not to agonize in pain,” said Socialist MP Karine Lalieux ahead of the vote.
Unlike the Dutch across the border, where euthanasia is allowed for children over 12, the law states that any incurably sick child may request to end their suffering if “conscious,” and if equipped with “a capacity of discernment.” Parental approval and counselling by doctors and a psychiatrist or psychologist is required.
Euthanasia is also on the public agenda in Quebec, where legislators will proceed next week with the adoption of a bill that will allow certain terminally ill patients to determine under strict conditions their moment of death. The bill, the first of its kind in Canada, is the result of years of public consultation that brought heart-wrenching testimony from individuals and groups.
According to public opinion polls, the vast majority of Quebecers support legislation on euthanasia as long as it is clearly defined as part of end-of-life care determined freely by terminally ill patients.
In Belgium, opponents of the expansion of the existing “right to die” law, enacted in 2002, attacked it for failing to set a minimum age for youngsters to be able to request euthanasia.
Netherlands has seen only five euthanasia requests from youngsters in the last decade.
With a report from Rheal Seguin in Quebec