Skip to main content

Belgium: Lawmakers back allowing minors to request euthanasia

By Laura Smith-Spark and Diana Magnay, CNN
November 27, 2013 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
A nurse puts a respiratory mask on a baby at the Queen Fabiola Children's Hospital in Brussels on November 25, 2013.
A nurse puts a respiratory mask on a baby at the Queen Fabiola Children's Hospital in Brussels on November 25, 2013.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A Belgian Senate panel votes in favor of a law extending euthanasia rights to children
  • The bill must clear other hurdles before it becomes law
  • If passed, under-18s could request euthanasia only under stringent conditions
  • Belgium passed a law allowing euthanasia for adults in 2002

(CNN) -- A controversial bill that would extend the right to request euthanasia to children suffering terminal illnesses and adults with dementia cleared a vote in a Belgian Senate committee Wednesday.

The panel voted 13-4 to allow minors to seek euthanasia under certain conditions, the communications director for the Senate, Patrick Peremans, told CNN.

The vote is one stage in a legislative process -- the bill must clear other hurdles before it becomes law.

Belgium passed legislation in 2002 allowing voluntary euthanasia for adults.

Changes to the law now being considered by lawmakers would allow under-18s to request an end to their life only under stringent guidelines.

Deaf twins choose death over blindness
2012: A plea for the right to assisted suicide

Dr. Kenneth Chambarae, who is part of the end-of-life research group at Brussels' Free University, specializing in the impact of legalized euthanasia, said the bill explicitly states that it would be possible only for competent minors suffering unbearable physical pain from a serious physical illness without prospect of improvement to request euthanasia. This is different from adults, who can also request it if they are suffering psychologically.

Chambarae argues the debate in Belgium is more one of principle than anything else -- that very few children would ever choose euthanasia but that the law now discriminates against them.

The bill will now be introduced in the Senate, where it will be debated in a plenary meeting by all senators, Peremans said. If the bill is voted against, this would mean the end of the measure.

If it passes, the bill would then be transferred to the House of Representatives for debate. If approved there, it would go to the king to be signed into law.

'Grey zone'

Earlier this month, 16 pediatricians wrote an open letter in two national newspapers demanding an extension of the practice.

Among them was Gerland van Berlaer, also from Brussels' Free University.

"Doctors do terminate lives of children as well as adults," he told CNN. "But today it's done in a gray zone or in the dark because it's illegal. And this means that there's a lot of room to do things the wrong way."

Dr. Philip Nitschke, director of pro-euthanasia group Exit International, told CNN the Belgians are to be applauded for their progressive thinking on a very difficult issue.

However, critics question whether children are capable of making an informed decision on whether to end their own lives.

The Netherlands already allows children over the age of 12 to request euthanasia with the consent of their parents. Since the law was introduced in 2002, only five children have chosen to die that way.

INTERACTIVE: Euthanasia and the right to die around the world

READ: OPINION: Euthanasia: we can live without it...

READ: OPINION: Euthanasia: hope you never need it, but be glad the option is there

CNN's Diana Magnay reported from Brussels and Laura Smith-Spark wrote in London. CNN's Damien Ward and Bryony Jones contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
November 26, 2014 -- Updated 1612 GMT (0012 HKT)
Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson says he was just doing his "job right" when he shot and killed black teenager Michael Brown.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 0118 GMT (0918 HKT)
The interior of the Formosa Boulevard Mass Rapid Transit Station in Kaohsiung, in southern Taiwan.
Stunning stations where your first priority won't be finding the nearest exit.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 2318 GMT (0718 HKT)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says women's "nature is different," sparking fury.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 1043 GMT (1843 HKT)
A 30-year-old woman has been charged with attempting to kill a baby police say spent five days down a drain before being discovered by cyclists.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
If it wasn't for a comic's skit, Bill Cosby would still be America's favorite father, says expert.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 0051 GMT (0851 HKT)
Where do hip young things hang out in Taiwan?
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Obama orders the most sweeping overhaul of U.S. immigration in decades, prioritizing the deportation of "felons, not families."
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2106 GMT (0506 HKT)
Fighters loyal to ISIS are now in control of Derna, a city on Libya's Mediterranean coast.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 2319 GMT (0719 HKT)
China and likely other countries have the capacity to shut down the U.S. power grid, says the NSA.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1945 GMT (0345 HKT)
The founder of a U.S. nonprofit that works with returning soldiers is named CNN's Hero of the Year.
November 26, 2014 -- Updated 1557 GMT (2357 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT