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Belgium senate votes to extend euthanasia law to terminally ill minors

The Belgian Senate [official website] voted Thursday to allow euthanasia for terminally ill minors. The legislation [materials, in Dutch] would extend a 2002 law [text, PDF] that allows euthanasia [BBC backgrounder] for terminally ill adults to minors with "constant and unbearable physical suffering" and equipped "with a capacity of discernment." The law requires that the patient be legally competent and conscious at the time of the request, that the request is voluntary and that the patient is in a "medically futile condition of constant and unbearable physical pain or mental suffering that can not be alleviated, resulting from a serious and incurable disorder caused by illness or accident." If the new bill is successfully passed, Belgium will be the first country to eliminate the requirement of an age limit. While many who support the bill have hailed it as a merciful option for minors suffering with no hope of recovery, some opponents have expressed fears that it may lead to infanticide. The legislation was approved by a Senate committee [JURIST report] last month, and amendments must now be approved by the lower house of parliament.

The Netherlands [BBC report] legalized euthanasia in 2001, and Belgium [JURIST report] followed suit in 2002. Statistics published in 2006 showed that reported euthanasia cases in Belgium in 2005 were nearly double what they were when the legislation was passed, with nearly 400 documented instances. In February 2007, the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland [official website, in German] ruled that people with serious mental illnesses may be permitted to commit physician-assisted suicide [JURIST report] under certain conditions. A proposed bill that would legalize assisted suicide in the UK was set aside by the House of Lords in May 2007 following opposition by physician groups [JURIST reports]. In January 2006 the US Supreme Court upheld Oregon's Death with Dignity Act [JURIST report]. Oregon is the only US state that allows physician-assisted suicide.

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