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Belgium: Removal of Age Restriction for Euthanasia

(Mar. 11, 2014) On March 2, 2014, Belgium’s King Philippe signed into law an amendment to that country’s euthanasia law that would open the medically assisted suicide option to children. (Christian Laporte, Le Roi a signé la loi sur l’extension de l’euthanasie [The King Has Signed the Law Extending Euthanasia], LA LIBRE (updated Mar. 3, 2014).) The lower house of the Belgian legislature, the Chamber of Deputies, voted in favor of this proposal on February 13. (La Belgique légalise l’euthanasie pour les mineurs [Belgium Legalizes Euthanasia for Minors], LE SOIR (Feb. 13, 2014).) The Senate had already approved it in December 2013. (Constance Johnson, Belgium: Euthanasia Option May Be Extended to Children, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Dec. 17, 2013).)

Under this new law, a child who is terminally ill, who suffers from intolerable and inescapable physical pain, whose capacity for understanding and judgment (“capacité de discernement”) has been verified by a psychologist, and whose parents consent may request medically assisted suicide. (La Belgique légalise l’euthanasie pour les mineurs, supra.) Belgium thus has become the first nation to remove all formal age restrictions for euthanasia, although it is not the first to open that option to minors (the minimum age for assisted suicide in the Netherlands is 12 years). (La Belgique légalise l’euthanasie pour les mineurs [Belgium Legalizes Euthanasia for Minors], LA LIBRE (updated Feb. 25, 2014).)

This measure has proven controversial. It was strongly opposed by the Catholic church and by a large number of pediatricians, and the whole issue of a euthanasia option for minors has created internal divisions within the main political parties. (Jean-Pierre Stroobants, La Belgique légalise l’euthanasie pour les mineurs [Belgium Legalizes Euthanasia for Minors], LE MONDE (Feb. 13, 2014).)