Belgian lawmakers voted by a large margin on February 13 in favour of extending the country’s euthanasia law to children under 18.
86 members of the House of Representatives supported the legislation, 44 were against, and 12 abstained. The vote followed approval by the Senate last November, with 50 out of 71 senators voting in favour.
The law allows children with terminal ailments who are in great pain to request to be put to death if their parents agree and a psychiatrist or psychologist find they are conscious of what their choice signifies.
The law was passed despite protests in the country. The Church called for a day of fasting earlier this month and the legislation united the country’s religious leaders in condemning the move.
“We are opening a door that nobody will be able to close,” Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard of Brussels told the Associated Press Feb. 13. “There is a risk of very serious consequences in the long term for society and the meaning we give to life, death and the freedom of human beings.”
About 160 pediatricians on Wednesday also petitioned lawmakers to postpone the vote on the grounds that it was ill-prepared and unnecessary.
Belgium’s Socialist Party, which has been the main sponsor of the bill, sees the law as allowing children to die with dignity by not having to undergo severe suffering. Opponents argue that the answer lies in providing better palliative care.
“Minors decide more impulsively than adults and they don’t have the same perspective of short-term and long-term decisions,” Els van Hoof, a lawmaker from the Christian Democratic and Flemish party, told USA Today. “It’s too high a risk to leave this decision in the hands of children.”
A public survey found 75 percent of Belgians supported extending the euthanasia law to children.
The law will go into effect when it is signed by Belgium’s monarch, King Philippe, who is not expected to oppose the measure.
In 2012, Belgium recorded 1,432 cases of euthanasia, up by 25% from 2011.
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