Belgium’s parliament votes through child euthanasia

  • Posted

Posted 18/02/2014

Julie Crossley 1340718845_JulieCrossleyPX.jpg

Belgium legalised euthanasia for adults 12 years ago and the Belgian Parliament has now passed a bill allowing euthanasia for terminally ill children without any age limit. There were 86 votes in favour, 44 against and 12 abstentions. When, as expected, the bill is signed by the King, Belgium will become the first country in the world to remove any age limit on the practice. It may be requested by terminally ill children who are in great pain and also have parental consent. 

In the Netherlands, Belgium’s northern neighbour, euthanasia is legal for children over the age of 12, if there is parental consent. The conditions for child euthanasia are:

• Patient must be conscious of his or her decision
• Request must be approved by parents and medical team
• Illness must be terminal
• Patient must be in great pain with no treatment available to alleviate their distress.

Under the Dutch conditions, a patient’s request for euthanasia can be fulfilled by a doctor if the request is “voluntary and well-considered” and the patient is suffering unbearably, with no prospect of improvement.

Opponents argue children cannot make such a difficult decision and some, including some church leaders, view it as an ‘immoral’ law. Supporters of the legislation argue that in practice the law will affect an extremely small number of children, who would probably be in their teens. The law states a child would have to be terminally ill, face “unbearable physical suffering” and make repeated requests to die – before euthanasia is considered.

Opponents, such as the head of the Catholic Church in Belgium, raise the point that it seems incongruous for adolescents to be able to decide that someone should end their life when the law does not allow them to make important decisions on economic or emotional issues. Some paediatricians have warned vulnerable children could be put at risk and have questioned whether a child can really be expected to make such a difficult choice.

Last week 160 Belgian paediatricians signed an open letter against the law, claiming that there was no urgent need for it and that modern medicine is capable of alleviating pain.

Julie Crossley, a medical injury lawyer at Ashtons Legal, comments: “This can never be an easy decision for any parent and there will always be very strong views for and against these decisions. Clearly there would need to be strict guidelines that all those involved were clear about before a final decision was made.”


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