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Belgium passes right-to-die bill

Belgium passes right-to-die bill

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Belgium has become the second country in Europe after the Netherlands to decriminalise euthanasia.

The lower house of parliament passed a controversial bill on Thursday that gives patients the right to die.

After two days of heated debate, the lower chamber voted 86-51 in favour, with 10 abstentions.

The result is widely expected following approval of the bill by the Belgian Senate in October.

"Everyone has the right to die in dignity," Anne-Mie Descheemaeker of the Flemish Green Party told Reuters.

Dian Pretty: Euthanasia campaigner dies 

"People aren't afraid of being dead but they fear the process of dying. I'm sure that having the option of euthanasia actually gives people the courage to go on day after day."

Martine Dardenne of the Green Party, told Reuters before the vote: "People should be given the right to choose. I don't see why one group should impose its moral view on another."

The Netherlands becamethe first country in the world to allow a patient's right-to-die when it passed its euthanasia law in April. (Full story)

It bill allows doctors to kill patients with terminal diseases who are suffering "unbearably" if they request it.

The Belgian law differs from Dutch legislation in that it applies to patients older than 18 and sets different procedures for patients who are terminally ill and those who may have incurable diseases but still have years to live.

Any patient requesting euthanasia must be conscious when he makes his demand and must repeat his request.

Diane Pretty took her fight to the European court, but lost
Diane Pretty took her fight to the European court, but lost  

In the case of someone who is not in the terminal stages of illness, a third medical opinion must be sought.

Every mercy killing case must be filed at a special commission that would decide if the doctors in charge have obeyed regulations.

The law, under consideration now for more than a year, has divided political parties with the Christian Democrats staunchly opposed to legislation and the Socialist-Liberal-Green coalition supporting it.

"We stand against it because it's an extreme law. It does not contain any provision against abuse," said Yves Leterme of the Christian Democrats.

Some members of the rainbow coalition parties also voiced their objections.

The opposition Christian Democrat party, staunchly against the legislation, has said it may fight the law in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The right-to-die debate was rekindled in Europe recently after a British woman, Diane Pretty, who suffered from motor neurone disease, lost a battle in British and European courts to end her life with her husband's help.

Paralysed, incontinent and unable to speak, she died earlier this week after suffering breathing difficulties and slipping into a coma. (Story)


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