Senators in Belgium have shrugged off vociferous opposition from religious groups to vote heavily in favour of giving terminally ill children the right to choose to die.
The controversial proposal to extend liberal euthanasia laws to children was approved in the Senate by 50 votes to 17.
It has still to be assessed by the House of Representatives but if adopted it will decriminalise euthanasia for children in great pain who are expecting to die imminently. The patient would have to make a written request supported by their parents or guardians.
No age limit is to be set under the proposed law but children requesting to die would have to satisfy the authorities that they fully understand what they are doing - that they “possess the capacity of discernment".
The measure is vehemently opposed by Catholic, Protestant, Christian Orthodox, and Muslim groups which have jointly published a declaration in which they maintain that to euthanise children is morally and ethically reprehensible.
Critics also include the European Institute of Bioethics (EIB) which published a reportlast year suggesting Belgium’s euthanasia laws had been trivialised.
Asked about juvenile euthanasia, Carine Brochier of the EIB told the Deutsche Welle newspaper: "A child cannot buy a house in Belgium. A child cannot buy alcohol in Belgium. And this law would allow a child to ask to be killed. And that is a real problem.
"Euthanasia is not easy. It's not fun to kill someone. Euthanasia is really killing and that's not good for the person doing it, even if it is to kill suffering. It's also killing society.”
The proposed law change in Belgium comes amid growing support for euthanasia in the Netherlands, with research published last night suggesting more than one in five people believe it should be allowed for elderly people who are "tired of living".
The survey results were published in the Journal of Medical Ethics and the authors concluded: “This topic may need to be taken seriously in the debate about end-of-life decision-making."