Belgium’s Parliament voted to extend the nation’s euthanasia law to terminally ill children facing unrelievable pain, becoming the first country to remove a minimum-age requirement for the practice.
The lower house of Parliament in Brussels yesterday voted 86 to 44, with 12 abstentions, to approve the legislation, which decriminalizes ending the lives of hopelessly sick or injured minors who are “capable of discernment” to make such a request. The upper house passed the bill in December.
Once King Philippe signs the law, Belgium would become the second country in the world, after the Netherlands, to extend the possibility of euthanasia to minors and the only nation to do so with no age limit, according to the office of Belgian Senator Philippe Mahoux, who sponsored the bill in the upper chamber. The minimum age in the Netherlands is 12.
In Belgium, “terminally ill minors facing unbearable and unrelievable physical suffering may in the future benefit from euthanasia if they request it,” according to a Senate statement. “This process must be supervised by a medical team and be based on parental consent.”
Jan De Lepeleire, a Belgian general practitioner who calls himself a skeptic rather than an opponent of euthanasia, said the new law may affect as few as three children a decade and that the sponsors appeared to be seeking a “political trophy” to show how progressive Belgium is.
“It’s only about a very small number of people,” De Lepeleire, who is also a professor at the Faculty of Medicine at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, said by telephone. “I don’t understand why it was necessary. There are more important problems.”
Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, called on the Belgian monarch to refrain from signing the measure, saying the “government is making decisions based on ideology rather than good governance,” according to the group’s website.
King Philippe isn’t expected to oppose the measure, Jean-Jacques De Gucht, a co-sponsor, told the AP.
A group of Belgian pediatricians expressed concern at the “rushed” vote on the issue, the Belga news agency reported. A letter calling for lawmakers to postpone the vote was signed by 160 physicians.