BELGIUM – Lawmakers in Belgium are expected to approve legislation this week that will allow doctors to euthanize children.
Last month, the Belgian Senate voted 50-17 in favor of a bill that would allow terminally ill children to request euthanization. Belgium’s lower legislative house will vote on the legislation Thursday. Analysts say the lower house will most likely pass the measure.
According to reports, the bill will allow children to choose to intentionally end their lives via lethal injection. Euthanasia will be available to children of all ages—as long as the children understand what euthanasia is and have approval from parents and doctors.
Currently, the Netherlands is the only country in the world where child euthanization is legal. In the Netherlands, children must be over the age of 12 to intentionally and legally end their lives. However, the Belgian euthanization bill has no age restrictions.
Belgium first sanctioned adult euthanasia in 2002. Since then, the number of euthanasia cases has been increasing every year—from less than 300 in 2003 to approximately 1,500 in recent years.
Els Van Hoof is a Belgian senator who voted against the child euthanasia bill last month. According to the BBC, she is concerned that approval of euthanasia is a “slippery slope.”
“In the beginning, they presented a law that included mentally ill children,” she noted. “During the debate, supporters of euthanasia talked about children with anorexia, children who are tired of life—so how far does it go?”
However, supporters of euthanasia say children with incurable maladies should be allowed to die.
“Rarely—but it happens—there are children we try to treat but there is nothing we can do to make them better,” Dr. Gerlant van Berlaer, a pediatrician in Belgium, told the BBC. “Those children must have the right to decide about their own end of life.”
“We are not playing God—these are lives that will end anyway,” he argued. “Their natural end might be miserable or very painful or horrifying, and they might have seen a lot of friends in institutions or hospitals die of the same disease. And if they say, ‘I don’t want to die this way, I want to do it my way,’ and that is the only thing we can do for them as doctors, I think we should be able to do it.”
Even though the child euthanasia bill is expected to pass the Belgian legislature this week, many in the country oppose the legislation. Last month, 38 Belgian pediatricians denounced the bill in an online statement.
“Even the most complex medical cases can be solved in the current legal framework, with the means and expertise at our disposal,” the translated statement says. “For whom is this legislation therefore designed?”
“Children in Belgium are not suffering,” it continues. “The palliative care teams for children are perfectly capable of achieving pain relief, both in hospitals and at home.”
Meanwhile, an online petition that condemns the euthanasia bill has received over 57,000 signatures.
“Belgian officials are moving quickly and not allowing for public input, such as a democratic vote,” it states. “We cannot remain silent and must call on the Belgian Parliament to not move forward on this legislation. We cannot condone a culture of death.”
“We call on the politicians to abandon these proposed laws and work on new laws that are in favor of life, long term care and vulnerable people in our society,” the petition concludes.