The Belgian senate cleared a vote to allow children suffering from terminal illnesses and adults with dementia the right to seek euthanasia under certain conditions.
The vote of 13-4 in favour of the motion is only one step in a much larger legislative process – the bill must still pass other obstacles before it can become law.
But it wont be the first time the controversial issue has been debated in parliament.
In 2002 Belgium passed legislation that would allow for voluntary euthanasia for adults. One of the few countries int he world to do so. However the new changes, now being considered, would mean their would be no age limit for the elective termination of life.
Supporters say stringent guidelines will still need to be followed and only that the option would only be available to competent minors who suffer unbearable physical pain from a serious physical illness without the prospect of improvement. As opposed to adults who can opt for euthanasia if they are suffering psychologically.
Dr Kenneth Chambarae, who leads an end-of-life research group at Brussels’ Free University says the current debate is one of principle than anything else. He argues few children oddly ever choose the option but that the law as it currently stands discriminates against them.
Earlier this month 16 paediatricians demanded the extension of euthanasia practice for minors in a public letter to the media.
“Doctors do terminate lives of children as well as adults,” said Gerland van Berlaer of Brussels’ Free University.
“But today it’s done in a gray zone or in the dark because it’s illegal. And this means that there’s a lot of room to do things the wrong way,” he added
While critics question whether children are capable of making such a decision for themselves, The Netherlands already allows children over the age of 12 to request euthanasia with the consent of their parents. However, since the law was introduced in 2002, only five children have chosen to die that way.
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