Belgian Parliament Passes Bill Permitting Euthanasia for Children

Lawmakers' passing of a bill eliminating an age limit on euthanasia is met with mixed feelings.

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A controversial bill passed by Belgian lawmakers Thursday will allow children the option of euthanasia.

The lower house of parliament announced the proposal passed 86 to 44 with 12 abstentions via its official Twitter handle. The approval followed a vote by Belgium’s senate, which also supported the bill.

Once the statute is signed by Belgium’s king, the European country will become the first to have no age limit on euthanasia.

The law would give children suffering from terminal illnesses and enduring “unbearable physical suffering” with no expectation of improvement the option of euthanasia, or the right to die, the BBC reports.

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The bill’s supporters say it will give children who already have a fatal diagnosis a quicker and more humane passing.

"We aren't speaking about death, we are speaking about the way to die," said Philippe Mahoux, a Socialist Party senator and the bill's main sponsor, according to USA Today. "What we are giving them is the possibility to die with dignity, without suffering, without intolerable pain."

A recent Belgian poll found 75 percent of the country’s residents support lifting the age restriction on euthanasia for children.

But critics of the law say children don’t have the ability make such a complicated decision.

"Minors decide more impulsively than adults and they don't have the same perspective of short-term and long-term decisions," said Els Van Hoof, a lawmaker from the Christian Democratic and Flemish party, according to USA Today.

The Roman Catholic Church has been especially critical of the measure.

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"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," Brussels Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, head of the Catholic Church in Belgium, said at a prayer vigil, according to the BBC.

Other Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders in Belgium also have denounced the bill, saying it is immoral.

Doctors also have disapproved of the bill, with 175 Belgian pediatricians signing an open letter urging lawmakers to take more time to think about the implications of the law, CNN reported. The letter also said that the law would only bring more stress to the families of children suffering from terminal illnesses and that medicine had advanced enough to provide ways to relieve the pain of those dying without euthanasia.

"Euthanasia is active killing,” Charles Foster, a British lawyer who specializes in medical cases, told USA Today. “Let's not forget, these euthanasia laws get a lot of publicity, but only an overwhelming minority of nations actually allow it."