Belgium Approves Euthanasia For Terminally Ill Children
After a vote in Parliament, Belgium has become the first country to pass a bill allowing terminally ill children of any age to receive euthanasia. The bill was voted in favour by 86 votes to 44, with 12 abstaining from voting.
The amendment to the law still needs to be signed by the king, but it means that terminally ill children in Belgium who are in so much physical pain that they repeated ask to be allowed to die, will be allowed to do so – but only if their family and medical team agree.
Euthanasia is when a person’s life is intentionally ended to relieve pain and suffering, and has already been legal for adults in Belgium since 2002. Belgium is one of three countries in the world where euthanasia is legal for adults; the other two being the Netherlands and Luxembourg being the other two. Euthanasia is legal for children as young as 12 in the Netherlands, but only with parental consent, and the doctor needs to determine that the request comes only from the patient and has been well considered.
Paediatricians and politicians have been fighting for the child euthanasia bill for some time now, arguing that terminally ill children need to have the same rights to end their life, and their pain, as adults.
“I can bear them suffering if that is their wish,” said paediatric oncologist Dr Jutte van der Werf Ten Bosch from the University of Brussels. “What I can’t bear is that I can’t talk about other solutions and discuss with my patients what they think about this.”
Euthanasia is a topic of much debate around the world, with everyone having an opinion on what is morally right and wrong. For example, one Frenchman in the Parliament gallery shouted “Murderers!” as the bill was passed. Others may consider it an awful act to force a child to remain in grave pain, especially when they have already requested to be put to sleep.
It is thought that the bill amendment will only affect a small number of children, and the decision is one that can only be made if parents, doctors and psychiatrists are all in agreement. The patient needs to be fully conscious of the decision and aware of the implications, and will be interviewed to ascertain this.
At the moment, there is not clear time frame for how long it will take between a patient requesting euthanasia to when it will actually be carried out, but it has been stressed by medical professionals that this is a decision that should not be rushed.
“As a paediatrician, the first thing we want to do is cure children and babies, and make them better as soon as possible,” explained University of Brussels’ Dr Gerlant van Berlaer. “We are just talking about the things we cannot resolve. And then, if it is not a positive solution, we have to have a solution, so these children do not suffer.”