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Belgium Will Consider Passing Euthanasia Law for Children

Update Date: Oct 31, 2013 11:29 AM EDT

Euthanasia is the practice of ending a life, usually a terminally-ill one, intentionally in order to relieve pain and suffering. This practice is highly controversial because it gives the power to control life or death to science as opposed to nature, even though many may argue that medications do that everyday. Currently, euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg for adults. Now, Belgium is considering making euthanasia for children legal as well.

"The principle of euthanasia for children sounds shocking at first, but it's motivated by compassion and protection," John Harris, a professor of bioethics at the University of Manchester, stated. "It's unfair to provide euthanasia differentially to some citizens and not to others if the need is equal."

People pushing for the bill to be passed argue that making euthanasia legal for children would give families another option to consider. The bill would allow children who are terminally ill to choose whether to stay on medications that would most likely not improve their heath or to end their lives and the pain along with it. Despite the concept behind this practice, which is often called a "mercy killing," opponents of the bill argue that young children might not be able to make this decision reasonably.

"Children have different ways of asking for things but they face the same questions as adults when they're terminally sick," Dr. Gerlant van Berlaer, a pediatric oncologist said. "Sometimes it's a sister who tells us her brother doesn't want to go back to the hospital and is asking for a solution. Today if these families find themselves [in that situation], we're not able to help them, except in dark and questionable ways."

The bill also allows seniors with early signs of dementia to choose euthanasia. The bill will now allow people to draft a written statement that they would want to be killed if their health deteriorates. Current law states that the written declaration can last up to five years and the patient must be in an irreversible coma. The new bill would get rid of the time limit and will not require patients to have to be in a coma to get euthanized.

The bill was proposed by the ruling Socialist party with great opposition by the Christian Democratic Flemish party. This party has stated that if the law is passed, it will adamantly oppose it by challenging it in the European Court of Human Rights.

"It is strange that minors are considered legally incompetent in key areas, such as getting married, but might [be able] to decide to die," commented the Catholic Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, according to FOX News.

"Children, like everyone else, may not be able to anticipate how much they will value their lives if they were not killed," added Charles Foster. Foster teaches medical law and ethics at Oxford University.

Belgium legalized this practice for adults in 2002. Since then, the country has experienced an increase in euthanasia deaths. In 2003, there were 235 deaths and by 2012, the number spiked to 1,432. When patients asked for it, doctors will administer a powerful sedative first followed by a drug that will stop the heart permanently.

The bill is currently under review and will need to be passed by Parliament, which could take months. 

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