The Belgian parliament passed a bill Thursday allowing terminally ill children the right to ask to end their own lives.
Three countries have legalized euthanasia for terminally ill children older than twelve: Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. However, the Belgian bill would allow children of any age to ask to be euthanized. Belgian King Philippe is expected to sign the bill into law.
An Associated Press poll revealed 75% of Belgians favored the law, which would be the first time worldwide a law was passed allowing children of any age to make such a decision.
There are some guidelines: only children with terminal diseases who are in pain can make the request, they must show that they understand what being euthanized means, and they must ask multiple times. In addition, the parents and a medical team with psychologists must approve.
Supporters of the bill insist that the act would be one of mercy. Jan Bernheim, a retired professor of medical ethics at the Free University of Brussels, asserted, “Some of these children are very mature, indeed much more mature than some adults over 18.”
Others, including religious leaders and doctors, protest that the bill is going too far. Carine Brochier, project manager at the European Institute of Bioethics in Brussels, said, “As an adult, we have the capacity to judge [the option of] euthanasia, but the child? Who would have talked to the child about it? The grandma? The doctor? The mother? The father?”
Last November, 16 pediatricians wrote a letter to Belgian lawmakers stating, “Experience shows us that in cases of serious illness and imminent death, minors develop very quickly a great maturity, to the point where they are often better able to reflect and express themselves on life than healthy people.”