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
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Pakistan Taliban say the school attack was revenge for the killing of children in a military offensive -- but they are being pressed by defections to ISIS.
A group that claims it hacked Sony Pictures has posted a public threat against moviegoers who see Sony's "The Interview."
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
The gunman behind the deadly siege in Sydney this week was not on a security watch list, and Australia's Prime Minister wants to know why.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 0948 GMT (1748 HKT)
Bestselling author Marjorie Liu had set her sights on being a lawyer, but realized it wasn't what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
CNN's Matthew Chance looks into an HRW report saying Russia has "legalized discrimination against LGBT people."
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 0212 GMT (1012 HKT)
The Sydney siege has brought home some troubling truths to Australians. They are not immune to what are often called "lone-wolf" terror attacks.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 0012 GMT (0812 HKT)
A social media campaign condemning Islamophobia under the hashtag #illridewithyou has taken off after Sydney hostage siege.
Bill Cosby has kept quiet as sexual assault allegations mounted against him, but his wife, Camille, finally spoke out in defense of her husband.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
China-bound AirAsia flight turns back to Bangkok after passenger throws water over crew member.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
It takes Nepalese eye doctor, Sanduk Ruit about five minutes to change someone's life.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1054 GMT (1854 HKT)
This epic journey crosses 13,000 kilometers, eight countries over 21 days. Find out where.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1416 GMT (2216 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