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Belgium Parliament votes to extend euthanasia law to terminally ill minors

The lower house of Belgian Parliament [official website] gave final approval on Thursday to a bill that would extend the country's euthanasia law to certain cases of terminally ill minors. The legislation [materials, in Dutch], approved by a vote of 86 to 44 with 12 abstentions, would extend a 2002 law [text, PDF] that allows euthanasia for terminally ill adults to minors with "constant and unbearable physical suffering" and equipped "with a capacity of discernment." Specifically, the law requires that the patient be legally competent and conscious at the time of the request for euthanasia, 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." Consent from parents or guardians will also be required. Although the bill is widely supported, opponents stress that modern medicine can alleviate suffering among most, and that euthanasia of minors can lead Belgium down a questionable ethical path. The legislation was approved by the Senate in December and by a Senate committee [JURIST reports] in November. The bill now goes before King Philippe [official website], who is expected to sign it into law within the week. If Philippe signs, Belgium will become the first country in the world to eliminate the age limit requirement for euthanasia.

Euthanasia laws have seen varying approval around the world in recent years. The Netherlands legalized euthanasia in 2001, and Belgium followed suit [JURIST report] in 2002. Accordingly, statistics show that in 2005, euthanasia cases in Belgium had nearly doubled what they were when the legislation passed, with almost 400 instances reported. In 2006 the US Supreme Court upheld Oregon's Death with Dignity Act [JURIST report], making Oregon the only US state that allows assisted suicide. In 2007 the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland ruled [JURIST report] that people with serious mental illnesses may be permitted to commit physician-assisted suicide under certain conditions. Also in 2007 the House of Lords in the UK set aside a proposed bill [JURIST report] that would legalize assisted suicide due to opposition by physician groups. The UK has continued this trend, upholding a law against euthanasia [JURIST report] in a Court of Appeals case in 2013.

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