Should children have the right to die?
Belgium lawmakers say yes — under strict conditions.
The lower house of parliament on Thursday voted 86-44 in favor of extending the country's euthanasia law to terminally ill children. There were 12 abstentions.
The controversial legislation — which was backed by the senate in December — had been expected to be approved after an emotional debate on the highly sensitive topic.
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The bill must be signed by the king before it can become law. If that happens — and the BBC said analysts expect it will — Belgium will be the first country in the world to remove any age restrictions on euthanasia.
"This is not about lethal injections for children. This is about terminally ill children, whose death is imminent and who suffer greatly," Carina Van Cauter, a lawmaker for the Flemish Liberal Democrats who back the law, was quoted as saying.
"There are clear checks and balances in the law to prevent abuse."
In the Netherlands, children over the age of 12 are allowed to request euthanasia if they have parental consent. There have been five cases since the law went into effect in 2002. In Luxembourg, the only other country in the world where euthanasia is legal, the patient must be over 18.
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Under the new law in Belgium, children under the age of 18 who are suffering intolerable and irreversible pain would have their request for euthanasia considered under strict conditions.
They must be able to express their will to die themselves and show they fully understand the meaning of euthanasia.
Their request must also have been made several times and approved by their parents and a medical team.
Belgium’s euthanasia law was introduced in 2002 and polls showed the majority of its citizens were in favor of extending the legislation to children.
But the proposal faced strong opposition from conservative politicians, some members of the medical profession and religious groups, who expressed "great concern about the risk" of making euthanasia "routine."
In the lead up to Thursday's vote, the Catholic Church held "a day of fasting and prayer" in protest against the legislation.
"The law says adolescents cannot make important decisions on economic or emotional issues, but suddenly they've become able to decide that someone should make them die," Brussels Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard told a prayer vigil last week.
Agence France-Presse reported that some 160 pediatricians also petitioned lawmakers to delay the vote, arguing the law was ill-prepared and unnecessary.
"Pain can be eased nowadays, there's been huge progress in palliative care," Nadine Francotte, a cancer specialist and signatory to the petition, was quoted as saying.
But others disagreed.
Brussells-based palliative specialist Dominique Lossignol was quoted as saying doctors "do not have control over all types of pain, either physical or moral."
"Children are capable of taking such a decision," he said.
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