BRUSSELS // Belgium’s lower house of parliament yesterday adopted by a large majority a law allowing euthanasia for terminally ill children, making Belgium only the second country to allow mercy-killing for minors.
After its adoption in senate in December, the ground-breaking legislation was adopted by 86 votes in favour, 44 against and with 12 abstentions.
But unlike the Dutch across the border, where euthanasia is allowed for children older than 12, the bill that passed in Belgium’s House of Representatives lifts all age restrictions on the right of the incurably sick to end their lives.
The socialist senator and doctor Philippe Mahoux, the author of the country’s ground-breaking 2002 “right to die” legislation, had called for the law to be widened to minors because medics were helping children in pain die as a question of mercy, but illegally.
Euthanasia is “the ultimate gesture of humanity” and “not a scandal”, he said. “The scandal is illness and the death of children from disease.”
The bill states that a child must be equipped “with a capacity of discernment and be conscious” on requesting to die.
The child must also “be in a hopeless medical situation of constant and unbearable suffering that cannot be eased and which will cause death in the short term”. Counselling by doctors and a psychiatrist or psychologist is required, as is approval by the parents.
Before a first vote in the Senate in December, where the proposal was passed with a huge majority, the upper house consulted dozens of medical specialists, lawyers and interest groups. But in the months of debate leading up to the vote, religious leaders of all faiths said extending euthanasia to the young undermined moral values and risked “trivialising” death.
In a stormy exchange in parliament on Wednesday, a Christian Democrat MP opposed the proposal on the grounds that modern medication could relieve pain in sick youngsters allowing illness to run a natural course to death. “Euthanasia is not the only way to die in dignity,” said the Sonja Becq. “Euthanasia is not ‘a happy end’.”
But a Brussels palliative specialist, Dominique Lossignol, said it was mistaken to believe care could remedy suffering. “We do not have control over all types of pain, either physical or moral,” he said.
* Agence France-Presse