After an impassioned two-day debate, Belgian lawmakers have voted overwhelmingly to extend the country’s euthanasia laws to children, abolishing their age restrictions.
The amendments passed in the chamber of Representatives with 86 voting in favour, 44 voting against, and 12 abstentions, and will become law once symbolically approved by King Philippe.
Paediatricians who supported the amendment argued that terminally ill children should have the same rights as adults in choosing whether they want to end their lives, with Belgian passing a law permitting euthanasia in 2002. Now, those faced with unbearable and terminal suffering at any age are able to ask doctors to help them end their lives with dignity.
Other doctors, however, have raised fears that the guidelines on assessing a child’s capacity to make such a major decision as to end their own life are poorly defined, and the rules could be abused.
Under the new law, a terminally ill child who is nearing death will only be granted euthanasia if approved by the parents and if a team of doctors and psychologists agreed that the child had the mental capacity to understand the gravity of the decision.
Belgium is the first country in the world to offer the possibility of euthanasia to children of any age, with the Netherlands limiting it to people over the age of 12, and Luxembourg limiting it to adults over the age of 18.