An electronic voting board shows the results of a vote on a
law to allow euthanasia for terminally ill children of any
age at the Belgian Parliament in Brussels. REUTERS/Francois
Belgium has become the first country to allow euthanasia
for terminally ill children of any age with its lower house of
parliament passing new "right-to-die" legislation by a large
The law goes beyond Dutch legislation that set a minimum age
of 12 for children judged mature enough to decide to end
their lives. It has popular support in Belgium, where adult
euthanasia became legal in 2002.
In the Chamber of Representatives, 86 lawmakers voted in
favour, 44 against and 12 abstained. Most opposition parties
supported it, as well as the governing socialists and
One man in the public gallery shouted "murderers" in French
when the vote was passed.
The Christian Democrats, although members of Prime Minister
Elio Di Rupo's coalition, voted against. Christian, Muslim
and Jewish leaders denounced the law ahead of the vote in a
rare joint declaration and Catholic bishops have led days of
prayer and fasting against it.
"This is not about lethal injections for children. This is
about terminally ill children, whose death is imminent and
who suffer greatly," said Carina Van Cauter, a lawmaker for
the Flemish Liberal Democrats who back the law.
"There are clear checks and balances in the law to prevent
abuse," she said of the legislation, which now has to pass
the largely symbolic stage of being signed by the country's
The vote has attracted more attention abroad than in Belgium,
where none of the major newspapers carried the news of
Thursday's vote on their front pages, and television news
concentrated on Belgium being in the international spotlight.
Children seeking to end their lives must be "capable of
discernment", the law says, and psychologists must test them
to confirm they understand what they are doing. Parents must
also approve of their child's decision.
Supporters of the law say these safeguards would rule out the
very young and teenagers not mature enough to decide.
Opponents have dismissed these rules as arbitrary and warned
the new law will lead to a slippery slope of ever wider
interpretation and a "banalisation" of euthanasia.
Brussels Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, head of the
Catholic Church in Belgium, asked at a prayer vigil last week
why the state wanted to give minors such responsibility when
they had to wait until 18 for many other legal rights.
"The law says adolescents cannot make important decisions on
economic or emotional issues, but suddenly they've become
able to decide that someone should make them die," he said.
Belgium's rules on euthanasia have come under international
scrutiny in the past year after it granted the right to die
to deaf twin brothers who were about to turn blind and to a
transgender person after an unsuccessful sex change
The new law specifies that children seeking euthanasia must
be terminally ill rather than just in a state of unbearable
suffering, which is the qualification for adults.
FEW EXPECTED TO OPT TO DIE
Belgian nurse Sonja Develter, who has cared for some 200
children in the final stages of their lives since 1992, said
she opposed the law.
"In my experience as a nurse, I never had a child asking to
end their life," Develter told Reuters before the vote.
But requests for euthanasia did often come from parents who
were emotionally exhausted after seeing their children fight
for their lives for so long, she added.
In practice, supporters of child euthanasia say, there are
likely to be few minors who will be allowed to die.
The Netherlands has had five cases of child euthanasia since
the law went into effect there in 2002. The total number of
Dutch euthanasia cases has been 2,000 to 4,000 a year.
Between 2006 and 2012, there was just one case of a Belgian
under the age of 20 requesting euthanasia. Over 1,000 people
opt for euthanasia in Belgium annually.
Apart from Belgium and the Netherlands, euthanasia is also
legal in neighbouring Luxembourg, and France is considering
legalising it later this year. Switzerland allows assisted
suicide if the person concerned takes an active role.
In the United States, assisted suicide is legal in Montana,
Oregon, Vermont and Washington states.