Belgium’s child euthanasia bill was developed to give children the right to die. Although assisted suicide is currently legal in Belgium, it is not legal for children. The new bill will extend the “right to die” to include children who are in “constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering that cannot be alleviated.”
In December, Belgium’s Senate approved the bill with a majority vote. It was then sent Parliament’s lower house. On Thursday, Parliament announced that the law passed 86 to 44. It is now up to monarch King Philippe to sign the bill into law.
Although the bill extends the current law to include children, there are some important stipulations. As outlined in the bill, euthanasia cannot be performed on children without their parents’ consent.
The bill also requires the child to reasonably understand what is being done. A psychologist or psychiatrist must be present to explain the procedure and determine whether the child understands.
As reported by CNN, the bill has gained tremendous support. However, critics are concerned that lawmakers have not considered all the consequences. Following Parliament’s announcement, 175 pediatricians signed an open letter in opposition of the child euthanasia bill.
In the letter, the pediatricians argued that there is “no real need” to include children in the current law. They pointed out that children simply do not have the capacity to decide when to end their lives.
The doctors explained that terminally ill children are routinely given palliative care, which includes management of severe pain.
Palliative nurse Sonja Develter works exclusively with terminally ill children. She is concerned that many children, who may already believe they are a burden, will make the decision to please their families. Develter said having the option to die will only increase the stress on terminally ill children and the parents.
Iwona Sacewicz’s daughter has suffered with Huntington’s disease for eight years. The neurological disorder has left 18-year-old Izabela unable to walk or eat without assistance. Although she is suffering, Izabela said assisted suicide is “not good.”
Izabela’s mother agrees. As the parent of a terminally ill child, Iwona said the government needs to provide more support to families. She said assisted suicide would never be an option if parents received useful and consistent support while caring for their terminally ill children.
Al Jazeera reports that up to 75 percent of Belgians support including child euthanasia in the current law. King Philippe is expected to sign the bill into law.
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