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Belgian Senate Approves Child Euthanasia

Belgium’s Senate has voted overwhelmingly to extend euthanasia rights to allow terminally ill children to ask for and receive permission to end their lives under certain circumstances.

BBC reports the Senate voted 50-17 to approve legislation which, if approved by the lower house of parliament, will allow children suffering from terminal illnesses to request to end their own lives if they are in great pain and there is no other available treatment.

If the measure is approved, Belgium will become the world’s first country to allow euthanasia for young children. Terminally ill adults have had the right to end their lives in Belgium since 2002.

Under the new law, children suffering from “constant and unbearable physical suffering” who have a “capacity of discernment” will be able to ask to be euthanized. They will have to obtain the permission of their parents and doctors.

The New York Times reports religious leaders are strongly opposed to the law, which they claim could “lead to the destruction of society’s foundations.”

Christian Democrat Sen. Els Van Hoof said he does not believe children are capable of making such literally life and death decisions.

“We think that children don’t understand the character of death, they don’t understand the irreversibility of death,” Van Hoof opined. “To take a decision, which is a huge decision about their death– we don’t think that they are capable of doing it.”

But Socialist Party Sen. Philippe Mahoux, who sponsored the legislation, asserted that it gives terminally ill children the right to “die in dignity,” which he called “the ultimate gesture of humanity.” Mahoux also said that many religious believers do not oppose the measure as their leaders do.

Few nations permit euthanasia. Luxembourg has legalized adult euthanasia, while the Netherlands allows the practice in special cases for gravely ill patients ages 12 and older. In Switzerland, doctors can help patients die but are forbidden by law from actually killing them.

In the United States, physician aid in dying (PAD), commonly called assisted suicide, is legal in Montana, Oregon, Washington and Vermont.

Around 1,000 people choose to end their lives each year in Belgium, a nation of 11.1 million inhabitants.

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