Belgian Parliament Passes Law Permitting Euthanasia for Children

By:  Warren Mass
Belgian Parliament Passes Law Permitting Euthanasia for Children

Belgium’s Chamber of Representatives voted on February 13 to pass a bill allowing children under 18 to request euthanasia with parental consent.

The vote was 86 in favor, 44 opposed, and 12 abstaining. A man in the public gallery of parliament shouted “murderers” in French when the vote was passed, Reuters news agency reported.

Belgium’s Senate passed the law in December by a vote of 50-17, with four senators not voting.

The new law is Europe’s most permissive law on euthanasia, with the Netherlands, Belgium’s northern neighbor, allowing euthanasia for children over the age of 12, providing there is parental consent. Belgium’s new law states that children of any age who decide to end their own lives may be put to death, but must possess “discernment” and must be evaluated by psychologists who must certify that they understand the severity of their decision. 

Sonja Becq, a Christian Democratic and Flemish Party representative, denounced the law, saying modern science is capable of relieving pain in terminally ill children until their illnesses lead to their ultimate end. “We cannot accept that euthanasia be presented as a ‘happy ending,’ ” she was quoted by AP, noting that Belgium sets legal limits on who can legally buy cigarettes and alcohol — so why not restrict euthanasia?

“Can you tell me what a ‘state of discernment’ means?” Becq also asked.

On January 31, a group of 38 Belgian pediatricians (whose numbers later increased to 160) issued a statement denouncing the bill. The statement addressed the impracticality of its “discernment” requirement, noting: “According to the current draft law, the ability of the minor to discern is a condition of admissibility of the request for euthanasia. However, in practice, there is no objective method for determining whether a child is gifted with the ability of discernment and judgment. So this is actually largely subjective and subject to other influences.... Because there is no objective measure of the ability of discernment [of] children, we believe that the issue deserves further consideration.” (Emphasis in original.)

The law states that a child would have to be terminally ill, face “unbearable physical suffering,” and make repeated requests to die before euthanasia is considered. The pediatricians’ statement cited above also addressed the issue of suffering, noting: “we are now able to fully control the physical pain, choking, or anxiety as they approach death. The palliative care teams for children are perfectly capable of recognized pain relief, both in hospital and at home.”

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