Euthanasia for minors now on the cards

A select committee of the Belgian Senate on Wednesday backed legislation to allow minors in full possession of their cognitive faculties to request euthanasia. The legislation still needs to be approved by votes in plenary sessions of the Chamber of Representatives and the Senate before minors will be able to undergo euthanasia.

The legislation received the backing of a mixed bag of lawmakers: the opposition parties N-VA (Flemish nationalists) and Greens joined the governing socialists and liberals in supporting the legislation, while the governing Christian democrats opposed the bill.

The split vote should not be a problem for the Prime Minister as lawmakers are allowed to follow their own conscience on ethical issues in Belgium.

The vote by a joint meeting of the Justice and Social Affairs select committees means that existing euthanasia legislation that allows the practice for adults will in all likelihood now be expanded to minors who are suffering 'unbearable suffering with no prospect of any improvement'. The advice of a youth magistrate or psychologist will be required. The minor's parents or guardians will have to be in agreement too.

The Christian democrats oppose the extension pointing to the presence of sufficient alternatives and the fact that hardly any requests for euthanasia are made by minors. Lawmaker Els Van Hoof called for the opportunity only to be open to over 15's: "Children under 16 can't buy alcohol or cigarettes, but would be able to take a decision that is irreversible."

In an unprecedented move Belgium's faiths issued a joint statement expressing their 'disappointment and sadness': 'The fear and impotence of parents who see a child suffer and die too early touches us. Children may not be allowed to suffer. Medicine possesses the necessary means.'