Belgium Close to Allowing Euthanasia for Ill Minors

human euthanasia, Belgium Paliament in sessionAn interesting article by Dan Bilefsky reporting on a measure recently approved in Belgium allowing minors to choose euthanasia.  How do you feel about this measure?


Belgium’s lower house of Parliament approved a law allowing euthanasia for terminally ill children who are enduring insufferable pain. Julien Warnand/European Pressphoto Agency

PARIS — Belgian lawmakers gave final approval on Thursday to a measure that would allow euthanasia for incurably ill children enduring insufferable pain. King Philippe is expected to sign the measure into law and make Belgium the first country to lift all age restrictions on legal, medically induced deaths.

Under the measure, approved 86 to 44 by the lower house, euthanasia would be permissible for terminally ill children who are close to death, experiencing “constant and unbearable suffering” and can show a “capacity of discernment,” meaning they can demonstrate they understand the consequences of such a choice.

The measure is an amended version of a 2002 law that allowed euthanasia for adults, and it extends this to those under 18. The legislation also requires that a request for euthanasia include the written consent of a parent.

Although the legislation had been approved by the upper house of Parliament in December and is supported by a strong majority of Belgians, it has spurred an emotional debate. Opponents, including religious leaders, some medical professionals and conservative politicians, have argued that modern medicine can alleviate suffering among the very sick and that euthanasia of minors could lead Belgian society down a perilous ethical path.

This week 160 Belgian pediatricians signed an open letter arguing that there was no urgent need for the law and that science and medicine were capable of relieving the worst suffering of terminally ill children. Demonstrators this week also took to the streets in Brussels. Some carried signs that read: “Care! Do Not Kill.”

Philippe Mahoux, a Socialist Party senator who sponsored the legislation, said on Thursday in a telephone interview from Brussels that the law would affect only a small number of terminally ill young people, such as cancer patients with no hope of successful treatment. “This is an act of humanity that allows the doctor to make the most humane course of action for his patient,” said Mr. Mahoux, who trained as a surgeon. “What is scandalous is the suffering of sick children when they are going to die.”

As for the contention by some that sick children are ill equipped to confront the choice of dying, he said that suffering from a terminal illness endowed young people with a maturity sometimes lacking in many adults.

During a parliamentary debate on Wednesday, members of the Socialist Party said that the issue was a matter of mercy and humanity. “It is our responsibility to allow everyone to live and die with dignity,” Karine Lalieux, a Socialist lawmaker, told Le Soir, a Belgian newspaper.

A version of this article appeared in the New York Times February 13th – click here for more!




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