• Belgium first country to legalise child euthanasia
    Terminally ill children can now make a request for euthanasia in Belgium

News & Views

Belgium first country to legalise child euthanasia

Feb 14 2014

Doctors in Belgium are the first in the world that will be able to euthanise children that have a terminal illness. The country legalised euthanasia for adults 12 years ago but the option was not open to children that had no chance of survival. 

The country's parliament backed the amendments to the previous euthanasia law, stating that in rare cases euthanasia would be made available as an option for terminally ill children. Politicians and paediatricians campaigned for the alterations in the law, stating that children that have no chance of recovery should be given the same rights as adults that are in the same situation.

The new law will enable children that are faced with irreversible pain and suffering to choose how and when they die, rather than continuing in pain before dying naturally. However, some medical professionals and religious groups have argued that this type of case within children is incredibly rare and that there was little need to rush the law amendments through parliament.

According to those opposing the new law, the guidelines for determining whether a child is capable of making such a decision are not defined enough, which could result in the misuse of the amended euthanasia law.

The law will come into force once King Philippe, Belgium's monarch, approves it. It is being passed on to him following a two-day debate, which saw parliament follow on from the senate and approve the decision. While 44 lawmakers voted against the decision and 12 abstained from voting, 86 agreed that the amendments should be made.

Any terminally ill child will be able to request euthanasia, once the law is put in place, however; doctors, psychologists and others within the medical profession must agree that the child fully understands the concept of euthanasia. The child must also be confirmed to be close to death and their parents must agree with the decision.

Belgium is among three countries - also including Luxembourg and the Netherlands - to have made euthanasia illegal. Some countries, such as Switzerland, do allow assisted suicide but this is not classed as euthanasia. However, no other countries allow those under the age of 12 to make the decision to end their lives.  

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