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Belgium is the first country to allow euthanasia for patients of any age. In February, the Chamber of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to extend the country’s already existing euthanasia law to children under the age of 18.
“Brussels Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, head of the Catholic Church in Belgium, asked at a prayer vigil…why the state wanted to give minors such responsibility when they had to wait until 18 for many other legal rights,” according to an article in Australia’s Canberra Times.
“‘The law says adolescents cannot make important decisions on economic or emotional issues, but suddenly they have become able to decide that someone should make them die,’ he said.”
House members voted 86 to 44, with 12 abstentions, to allow children who are terminally ill and suffering great pain the choice of being put to death. Until this point, only adults have had this option. The amendment requires that both parents consent, and that a team of doctors and psychologists verify a child is mature enough to comprehend the meaning of it.
Though the law in Belgium does not specify at what age a child can ask to be put to death, it is not the only country to offer the option to minors. Children as young as 12 can request assistance to end their lives in the Netherlands, reported The Independent.
Dr. Stefaan van Gool, a pediatrician at the University of Leuven, was one of 170 pediatricians who signed an open letter that urged parliament to postpone its vote. He told the newspaper that the law amounts to “giving lethal injections to children.”
“‘I have never had such a type of question [from a child] so I don’t see the urgency,’ he told The Independent, adding that he also feared that vulnerable children could become victims of misinterpretations of the law: ‘If one opens the door, you have no control any more of what is going through this door.’”