Belgium is likely to pass a new controversial bill that will allow child euthanasia. The country already allows adults the “right to die” on their own terms, but the legal minimum age is set to 18. The lawmakers want terminally ill children, and the parents of those children, to have the same right to end their lives at a time that they decide. Those who are pro-euthanasia consider this arrangement as more dignified.
There is currently a large amount of support from the people of Belgium for the bill. However, many pediatricians and others who are anti-euthanasia are gathering to arrange street protests. The fear is that adults will be making decisions for vulnerable children, and these decisions are irreversible.
Some pediatricians and doctors, including Dr. Gerland van Berlaer, back the proposals. According to these doctors, there are specific individuals who will have the right to end their life through assisted suicide; it will be for teenage girls and boys who are in the advanced stages of a terminal illness, where they are already experiencing extreme pain. It will also be for those who are already close to the end of their lives, and will provide a way to end it on their own terms.
According to van Berlaer, children ask doctors not to let them go in a horrible and painful way. They want to die with their dignity, just like adults. The problem is that the doctors are tied by the law and are simply unable to help.
The child euthanasia bill is likely to pass in Belgium. The senate voted on Dec. 12, with an outcome of 50-17 in favor of looking into reducing the age limit. A recent opinion poll also shows that 75 percent of the citizens support the change.
It would not mean a completely new bill, but a change to the current law that was created in 2002. The law would be amended to reduce the age limit and ensure that there are certain conditions met first. It will require a psychologist and psychiatrist to talk to the patient and determine whether this is something the child wants, and will then require parental consent.
The vote will take place on Feb. 13 to determine whether Parliament accepts the proposed changes to the bill. Once the bill is created, it will be up to King Philippe of Belgium to add the final signature, so that it becomes law. He has not yet stated, publicly, how he feels about the proposed bill, but this is not unusual for the monarch as it is for Parliament to discuss.
This will not be the first country to make euthanasia legal for children. The Netherlands has a minimum age of 12, but the conditions are slightly different. The patient must do this voluntarily and give full consent. Doctors can help if the patient is suffering unbearably and there is no chance the condition will improve.
On the other hand, the United Kingdom recently turned down a hearing involving lawmakers to look at its euthanasia laws, even for adults.
The decision in Belgium will be made today, but it is likely that Parliament will vote in favor of the changes to the bill to allow child euthanasia.
By Alexandria Ingham