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Belgium: Euthanasia Option May Be Extended to Children

(Dec. 17, 2013) On December 12, 2013, the Belgian Senate voted to permit euthanasia in cases of children who are terminally ill. The proposal had been approved by a Senate committee on November 27. (Jaclyn Belczyk, Belgium Senate Votes to Extend Euthanasia Law to Terminally Ill Minors, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (Dec. 13, 2013); Proposition de loi modifiant la loi du 28 mai 2002 relative à l’euthanasie en vue de l’étendre aux mineurs [Proposed Law to Modify the Law of May 28, 2002, on Euthanasia to Extend It to Minors, hereinafter Proposed Law], Senate of Belgium website (Dec. 4, 2013); Taylor Gillan, Belgium Approves Bill Allowing Minors to Request Euthanasia, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (Nov. 28, 2013).)

If enacted, the legislation would make Belgium the first country not to have an age requirement for euthanasia. It would add minors to a provision on those eligible for euthanasia under a 2002 law. That law defines euthanasia as “intentionally terminating life by someone other than the person concerned, at the latter’s request.” (Belczyk, supra; Loi relative à l’euthanasie [Law on Euthanasia], art. 2 (June 22, 2002), SERVICE PUBLIC FÉDÉRAL JUSTICE [conduct search]; Gillan, supra.)

Under the new legislation, the minor involved would have to be terminally ill, in unbearable pain, and conscious and capable of discernment at the time of the request for euthanasia. The request must be voluntary, and the person’s suffering must be such that it cannot be medically alleviated. (Proposed Law, art. 2; Belczyk, supra.)

There has been some criticism of the proposed law from religious leaders. An alliance of Catholic, Christian Orthodox, Muslim, and Protestant groups issued a statement arguing that euthanasia for minors is immoral. Carine Brochier of the European Institute of Bioethics, located in Brussels, Belgium, pointed out that “[a] child cannot buy a house in Belgium. A child cannot buy alcohol in Belgium. And this law would allow a child to ask to be killed. And that is a real problem.” (Belgium Approves Law Allowing Euthanasia for Terminally Ill Children, DW.DE (Dec. 13, 2013).)

In response, the legislation’s sponsor, Philippe Mahoux, a Senator from the Socialist Party, argued that allowing terminally ill children the right to “die in dignity” was a gesture of humanity and that the opposition by some religious leaders was unrepresentative of most religious Belgians. (Andrew Higgins, Belgian Senate Votes to Allow Euthanasia for Terminally Ill Children, THE NEW YORK TIMES (Dec. 12, 2013).) The proposal will now be considered by the lower house of the legislature. (Id.)