Child euthanasia in Belgium: World first as doctors are allowed to help children with terminal illness die

But religious groups say such cases are so rare that there is no need to rush through new laws

brussels

Belgium has become the first country in the world to allow euthanasia for any age group, after its parliament backed amendments to the existing law which would in very rare cases permit doctors to help end the life of a terminally ill child.

Paediatricians and politicians fighting for the amendment argued that sick children in Belgium should have the same rights at the end of their lives as adults, who since 2002 have been able to ask doctors to help them die with dignity when faced with unbearable and irreversible suffering.

But religious groups and other doctors said such cases were so rare in children that there was no need to rush through new rules. They said guidelines on assessing a child’s capacity for making such life-and-death decisions were ill-defined, which they feared could lead to misuse.

After an emotional two-day debate, the lawmakers followed the lead of the Senate and overwhelmingly approved the amendments, which will come into force as soon as Belgium’s monarch, King Philippe, signs the law. He is not expected to oppose it.

In the Chamber of Representatives, also known as the “lower house” of parliament, 86 lawmakers voted in favour, 44 against and 12 abstained. Most opposition parties supported it, as well as the governing socialists and liberals. One member of the public in the gallery shouted “murderers” in French when the vote was passed, Reuters reported.

Under the amendments, any terminally ill child can request euthanasia, but such a request would only be granted if the child was close to death and a team of psychologists, doctors and other medical professionals agreed that he or she was mature enough to understand the meaning of euthanasia. Any request would also require the approval of the parents.

“As a paediatrician, the first thing we want to do is cure children and babies and make them better as soon as possible,” said Dr Gerlant van Berlaer, from the University Hospital Brussels. “We’re just talking about the things we cannot resolve. And then, even if it’s not a positive solution, we have to have some solution so these children do not suffer.”

Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg are the only countries with legal euthanasia – although some nations, including Switzerland, permit assisted suicide. In The Netherlands, children as young as 12 can request assistance to end their lives; in Luxembourg the minimum age is 18.

For Dr Stefaan Van Gool, a paediatrician at the University of Leuven, the new laws in Belgium amount to “giving lethal injections to children”. He was one of more than 170 pediatricians who signed an open letter this week urging parliament to postpone its decision.

“I have never had such a type of question 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.”

Paediatricians in favour of the amendment agree that young patients requesting euthanasia are rare. But they are thankful they can now openly discuss all the options when such a request is made, knowing that medical teams and the relatives of the child need not fear legal action.

“I can bear them suffering if that’s their wish; what I can’t bear is that I can’t talk about other solutions and discuss with my patients what they think about this,” said Dr Jutte Van der Werf Ten Bosch, a paediatric oncologist from University Hospital Brussels. “That makes me feel that I’m a coward and I’m not giving them all the possibilities.”

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

    £22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

    Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

    £14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

    Day In a Page

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones