Belgian Lawmakers Grant Children the Right to Die

The lower house of the Belgian Parliament have adopted a bill that extends the right to euthanasia to minors. Belgium was already one of the very few countries where euthanasia is legal, but until now it has only been applicable for adults.

Belgium legalized euthanasia in 2002 for those in “constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering that cannot be alleviated.” Until now, minors had to wait for nature to take its course or for them to turn 18.

Parliament voted 86 to 44 to amend the euthanasia law so that it would apply to minors, but only under certain additional conditions. Circumstances include parental consent and the requirement that the minor exhibit a “capacity for discernment” as determined by a psychiatrist or a psychologist.

Before the legislation can go into effect, King Philippe must agree with and sign it.

There is widespread support in Belgium for the bill in the largely liberal country. However, it has also sparked vehement dissent from some. Dissenters argue that the legislation is too harsh and final, and an abandonment of children. Conversely, supporters of the legislation argue that children should have a choice and parents should not be forced to watch their terminally ill children suffer as they approach their inevitable death.

With adoption of the bill, Belgium will join the Netherlands in allowing euthanasia for children. The Netherlands has allowed child euthanasia since 2002 with parental consent. Since its adoption, only five children have utilized the Netherlands’ law.

Lisa Steffek

About Lisa Steffek

Lisa Steffek is a third year student at the University of Houston Law Center. Lisa completed her Bachelors, Masters and Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Texas in Human Development and Family Sciences. As an undergraduate, Lisa worked as a research assistant studying child attachment. Lisa also worked for several years at The Settlement Home, a residential treatment center for emotionally disturbed adolescent females. Most of the girls at The Settlement Home had been removed from their homes by Child Protective Services, and Lisa worked with the girls to teach them life-skills and provided psychological treatment to prepare them for adulthood and the transition to foster homes. Lisa also worked for six years in various academic capacities at the University of Texas, including an undergraduate teaching assistant, graduate research assistant, and undergraduate writing consultant. Lisa has presented papers regarding human development at various academic conferences in the states and abroad, and has had her writing published in an international, academic journal.

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