By Maria G. Valdez, Jun 11, 2013 05:57 PM EDT
(PHOTO CREDIT: Creative Commons)
In 2002, Belgium became the second country in the world after The Netherlands, to legalize euthanasia for people 18 or older. The law states that doctors can help patients to die when they freely express a wish to die because they are suffering intractable and unbearable pain. The patient needs to consult a second independent doctor and for non-terminal illnesses, an independent psychiatrist must approve.
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Since December 2012, the Belgian Federal Parliament is considering a significant change to its decade-old euthanasia law that would allow minors to seek permission to die. The changes to the law were submitted to parliament and are likely to be approved by other parties.
"On both sides of the linguistic border, liberals and socialists appear to agree on the fact that age should not be regarded as a decisive criteria in the event of a request for euthanasia," according to a report in the Belgian newspaper Der Morgen as translated by Presseurop. They want doctors to decide on a minor's capacity for discernment on a case by case basis.
The draft legislation calls for "the law to be extended to minors if they are capable of discernment or affected by an incurable illness or suffering that we cannot alleviate."
"The idea is to update the law to take better account of dramatic situations and extremely harrowing cases we must find a response to," Socialist party leader Thierry Giet said.
June 12 is the date when a Belgian Senate committee will examine the possible extension of the country's euthanasia law to include children. If it's legalized, Belgium will become the first country in the developed world to have a law allowing the practice, although since 2005, the Netherlands hasn't prosecuted doctors who perform euthanasia on some minors as long as they follow a specific protocol.
The bill would also allow euthanasia for patients suffering from Alzheimer's.
There were 1,133 cases of euthanasia recorded in Belgium in 2011, accounting for about one percent of the country's deaths that year, according to AFP.
According to International Business Times, many of the nation's Catholics are opposed to any expansion of legalized euthanasia. Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard expressed his disagreement.
"We expressed our strong reservations regarding the decriminalization of euthanasia as early as 2002," said Leonard. "First and foremost because we have excellent palliative care available today, and because we can rely on sedation, to the extent strictly necessary."
Although Christian Democrats may vote against the child euthanasia law, the New Flemish Alliance party members expressed that they are willing to back the bill in order to ensure its passage.