Belgian Parliament on Thursday overwhelmingly passed an amendment to extend the country's euthanasia law to children, thus paving the way for Belgium to become the first country in the world to legalize the practice to the entire population.
Euthanasia is the intentional termination of a very sick person's life by a doctor in order to relieve him or her of their pain and suffering.
The right to euthanasia for minors bill was passed in the lower house of the Parliament, the Chamber of Representatives, by 86 to 44 votes. 12 MPs abstained from voting.
The Upper House, the Senate had adopted the bill in December.
Now the bill awaits King Philippe's signature to become law.
The controversial practice, also called "mercy killing," is being applied to people under the age of 18 in Belgium twelve years after the country legalized euthanasia for adults.
In most cases euthanasia is carried out because the person who dies asks for it. But in cases where a person can't make such a request, it is done with parental consent.
The law states that euthanasia may be requested by terminally ill children who are in unbearable pain, and make repeated requests to die, but critics say children cannot make such a difficult decision.
There is a clause in the law, which stipulates that a child psychologist examine the child to make sure he/she is able to understand what euthanasia means.
A final decision to end a child's life under this law is subject to consent by parents, doctors and psychiatrists.
The law received wide support in opinion polls in the Catholics-dominated country, but Belgium's Catholic Church is against it.
An open letter signed by more than 100 pediatricians said there is no urgent need for this law, and argued that modern medicine is capable of alleviating pain. Doctors said extending the "right to die" to minors will only add to the stress and pain of families at a difficult time.
In Belgium's neighboring country of the Netherlands, where euthanasia is legal for children over the age of 12 with parental consent, only five children have opted for it since it was introduced in 2002.
Euthanasia or assisted suicide is legal also in Luxembourg, Switzerland, Estonia, Albania, and the US states of Washington D.C., Oregon and Montana.
by RTT Staff Writer
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