Belgian euthanasia: children given right to choose to die
Poll says that 75 per cent of Belgians support new law that allows euthanasia for sick children
THE Belgian parliament voted to legalise euthanasia for terminally ill children yesterday, by 88 votes to 44 with 12 abstentions.
The bill will allow children deemed to be in significant pain with no hope of recovery to choose to die, with the permission of their parents.
When it is signed into law by the king, Belgium will become the only country in the world not to have an age restriction on euthanasia.
The controversial vote has triggered passionate debate around the world, with experts divided on whether children should be allowed to choose to die.
When is child euthanasia appropriate?
Some paediatricians argue that euthanasia should be made available to children in cases where all treatments have been exhausted, and it is impossible to relieve the child of pain, the BBC reports.
"Rarely - but it happens - there are children we try to treat but there is nothing we can do to make them better," said Dr Gerlant van Berlaer, a paediatrician at UZ Hospital Brussels. "Those children must have the right to decide about their own end of life."
Dr Van Berlaer was one of 17 physicians who signed a petition urging politicians to pass the bill.
"We are not playing God - these are lives that will end anyway," Van Berlaer argued. "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."
Who argued against the bill?
Opponents of the bill argue that children are not capable of making such significant decisions.
"Minors decide more impulsively than adults and they don't have the same perspective of short-term and long-term decisions," said Els van Hoof, a Christian Democratic and Flemish party member. "It's too high a risk to leave this decision in the hands of children," she added.
Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious leaders have spoken out against the bill.
"We are opening a door that nobody will be able to close," said Andre Leonard, the archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and chairman of the Episcopal Conference of Belgium, quoted in USA Today. "There is a risk of very serious consequences in the long term for society and the meaning we give to life, death and the freedom of human beings."
Last week a coalition of 160 doctors signed an open letter against the bill, arguing that modern medicine was capable of adequately dealing with almost all pain.
But polls before the vote indicated that 75 per cent of Belgians support extending the right to die to minors.