The law goes beyond Dutch legislation that set a
minimum age of 12 for children judged mature enough to decide to end
their lives. It has popular support in Belgium, where adult
euthanasia became legal in 2002.
In the Chamber of Representatives, 86 lawmakers voted in favor, 44
against and 12 abstained. Most opposition parties supported it, as
well as the governing socialists and liberals.
One man in the public gallery shouted "murderers" in French when the
vote was passed.
The Christian Democrats, although members of Prime Minister Elio Di
Rupo's coalition, voted against. Christian, Muslim and Jewish
leaders denounced the law ahead of the vote in a rare joint
declaration and Catholic bishops have led days of prayer and fasting
"This is not about lethal injections for children. This is about
terminally ill children, whose death is imminent and who suffer
greatly," said Carina Van Cauter, a lawmaker for the Flemish Liberal
Democrats who back the law.
"There are clear checks and balances in the law to prevent abuse,"
she said of the legislation, which now has to pass the largely
symbolic stage of being signed by the country's monarch.
The vote has attracted more attention abroad than in Belgium, where
none of the major newspapers carried the news of Thursday's vote on
their front pages, and television news concentrated on Belgium being
in the international spotlight.
Children seeking to end their lives must be "capable of
discernment", the law says, and psychologists must test them to
confirm they understand what they are doing. Parents must also
approve of their child's decision.
Supporters of the law say these safeguards would rule out the very
young and teenagers not mature enough to decide.
Opponents have dismissed these rules as arbitrary and warned the new
law will lead to a slippery slope of ever wider interpretation and a
"banalization" of euthanasia.
Brussels Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, head of the Catholic
Church in Belgium, asked at a prayer vigil last week why the state
wanted to give minors such responsibility when they had to wait
until 18 for many other legal rights.
"The law says adolescents cannot make important decisions on
economic or emotional issues, but suddenly they've become able to
decide that someone should make them die," he said.
Belgium's rules on euthanasia have come under international scrutiny
in the past year after it granted the right to die to deaf twin
brothers who were about to turn blind and to a
transgender person after an unsuccessful sex change operation.
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The new law specifies that children seeking
euthanasia must be terminally ill rather than just in a state of
unbearable suffering, which is the qualification for adults.
FEW EXPECTED TO OPT TO DIE
Belgian nurse Sonja Develter, who has cared for some 200 children in
the final stages of their lives since 1992, said she opposed the
"In my experience as a nurse, I never had a child asking to end
their life," Develter told Reuters before the vote.
But requests for euthanasia did often come from parents who were
emotionally exhausted after seeing their children fight for their
lives for so long, she added.
In practice, supporters
of child euthanasia say, there are likely to be few minors who will
be allowed to die.
The Netherlands has had five cases of child euthanasia since the law
went into effect there in 2002. The total number of Dutch euthanasia
cases has been 2,000 to 4,000 a year.
Between 2006 and 2012, there was just one case of a Belgian under
the age of 20 requesting euthanasia. Over 1,000 people opt for
euthanasia in Belgium annually.
Apart from Belgium and the Netherlands, euthanasia is also legal in
neighboring Luxembourg, and France is considering legalizing it
later this year. Switzerland allows assisted suicide if the person
concerned takes an active role.
In the United States, assisted suicide is legal in Montana, Oregon,
Vermont and Washington states.
(Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek;
editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Andrew Roche)
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