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Belgium plans to allow euthanasia in children

Belgium’s Parliament passes a bill allowing euthanasia for terminally ill children

Ingrid Torjesen

Friday, 14 February 2014

Belgium’s Parliament has passed a bill allowing euthanasia for terminally ill children without any age limit. The bill was passed overwhelmingly by the House of Representatives yesterday, with 86 votes in favour, 44 against and 12 abstentions.

Once the bill has been signed by the king, Belgium will become the first country in the world to remove any age limit on the practice of euthanasia. Belgium legalised euthanasia for adults 12 years ago.

The bill states that euthanasia may be considered for terminally ill children who are in great pain, face "unbearable physical suffering" and make repeated requests to die. Parents, doctors and psychiatrists would have to agree before a decision is made.

The child’s treating doctor and another doctor, brought in to give a second opinion, must agree to proceed with euthanasia. A paediatric psychiatrist or psychologist must determine that the child possesses "the capacity of discernment". The child's physician must then meet the parents or legal representatives to inform them of the outcome of the consultation and ensure they are in agreement.

Opponents to the bill argued that children are too young to make such decisions, and some paediatricians have warned vulnerable children could be put at risk. Last week 160 Belgian paediatricians signed an open letter against the law, claiming that there was no urgent need for it and that modern medicine is capable of alleviating pain.

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