Thursday's vote, the first to extend such provisions
to children without any age limit, passed as easily as 2002
legislation allowing euthanasia for adults that had backing from 75
percent of Belgians. It created only minor ripples of dissent in the
country, but a wave of interest and fury abroad.
"Belgium has allowed the killing on demand of terminally ill
children and has headed for the ethical abyss. A state which allows
something like this is a failing state," the conservative German
daily Die Welt said in a column.
The law covering euthanasia of minors is different to the broader
euthanasia law. Adults can opt for death by injection if they find
their condition intolerable and pain too great. Cases have included
deaf twin brothers about to go blind.
Children must also be shown to be terminally ill. The child makes
the decision, with parental consent.
In allowing euthanasia for a child of any age, Belgium will move
even beyond the neighboring Netherlands, known for its liberal
attitude to a range of social issues, but where a minimum age of 12
"For the first time since 1830 we have evolved to being ethically
progressive leaders. We can be quite proud of that," Belgian daily
De Morgen said.
Some conservative U.S. commentators were particularly forthright in
Christian televangelist and media mogul Pat Robertson saw the law as
symptom of a broader brutality he said was evident in Belgium's
colonial past in Africa.
"They tortured those natives, they cut off their hands if they
didn't produce. They whipped them and branded them. It was just
horrible," Robertson told U.S. Catholic Broadcast Network.
"So the Belgians are not necessarily known for their compassion."
U.S. publishing executive Steve Forbes wrote in an opinion piece
last month: "We are on the malignantly slippery slope to becoming a
society like that envisioned by Nazi Germany, one in which
'undesirables' are disposed of like used tissue."
Such foreign criticism, which featured prominently in Belgian media,
met with bewilderment from local commentators who saw the law as a
humane provision to be used only in extreme cases to end the
suffering of children with no prospect of survival.
[to top of second column]
"DIFFERENT LEVEL OF DEBATE"
Bart Sturtewagen, chief editor of De Standaard, one of the country's
largest daily newspapers, said that after 12 years of legal
euthanasia in the country, Belgians had grown used to it as an
option for the final stages of their lives.
"I'm annoyed at hearing 'you'll kill children' in the foreign media.
We don't use that kind of language anymore. It's a very different
debate on a different level," he said.
His newspaper's article on euthanasia on Friday headlined a quote
from a well-known Belgian journalist.
"Not since Dutroux, have we seen such interest (in Belgium)," it
said, referring to serial child killer Marc Dutroux, whose crimes
shocked the country in the 1990s.
The Catholic Church, at the forefront of opposition to the bill in
Belgium, held prayer vigils and its leaders expressed their views.
Belgians are not shy of airing their views when they disagree with
the decisions of their politicians, but the euthanasia question has
not fired widespread debate.
More controversy has been stirred by the possible introduction of a
per kilometer charge for car drivers. The mere suggestion has drawn
over 165,000 signatories to an online petition to block the move.
"The highway charge affected everyone in the country with about two
cars per Belgian family. The euthanasia debate is more abstract and
everybody hopes never to be in the situation to have to take such a
decision," said Luc Rademakers, head of news at Belgian state
(Additional reporting by Philip
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