Newspaper article International New York Times

Belgium Close on Child Euthanasia ; Measure That Would Lift Restrictions on Ill Minors Expected to Become Law

Newspaper article International New York Times

Belgium Close on Child Euthanasia ; Measure That Would Lift Restrictions on Ill Minors Expected to Become Law

Article excerpt

The bill passed by Parliament would make Belgium the first country to lift all age restrictions on legal medical interventions to bring about death.

Belgian lawmakers have given final approval to a measure that would allow euthanasia for incurably ill children enduring insufferable pain. King Philippe was expected to sign the measure into law and make Belgium the first country to lift all age restrictions on legal, medically induced deaths.

Under the measure, approved 86 to 44 by the lower house on Thursday, euthanasia would be permissible for terminally ill children who are close to death, experiencing "constant and unbearable suffering" and can show a "capacity of discernment," meaning they can demonstrate they understand the consequences of such a choice.

The measure is an amended version of a 2002 law that allowed euthanasia for adults, and it extends this to those under 18. The legislation also requires that a request for euthanasia include the written consent of a parent.

Although the legislation had been approved by the upper house of Parliament in December and is supported by a strong majority of Belgians, it has spurred an emotional debate. Opponents, including religious leaders, some medical professionals and conservative politicians, have argued that modern medicine can alleviate suffering among the very sick and that euthanasia of minors could lead Belgian society down a perilous ethical path.

This past week 160 Belgian pediatricians signed an open letter arguing that there was no urgent need for the law and that science and medicine were capable of relieving the worst suffering of terminally ill children. Demonstrators this past week also took to the streets in Brussels.

Philippe Mahoux, a Socialist Party senator who sponsored the legislation, said Thursday in a telephone interview from Brussels that the law would affect only a small number of terminally ill young people, such as cancer patients with no hope of successful treatment. …

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