- (Reuters/Shannon Stapleton)
Belgium might become the first country in the world to allow seriously ill children the right to choose to die if lawmakers in the Federal Parliament decide to expand on the already controversial euthanasia laws.
"We all know that euthanasia is already practiced on children," Peter Deconinck, president of the Belgian medical ethics organization Reflectiegroep Biomedische Ethiek, said before the Belgian Senate committee. "Yes, active euthanasia."
While the Netherlands has also stopped prosecuting doctors who perform euthanasia on minors, as long as strong medical guidelines are followed, Belgium could become the first country in the developed world to openly embrace the practice, according to a report in Belgian daily newspaper Der Morgen, translated by French news agency Presseurop.
Current laws in Belgium allow euthanasia only on people over 18 years of age. The new law would apparently allow doctors to decide on a case-by-case basis if the child is mature enough to make a decision on his or her life, but they will also consider whether a child's condition truly is hopeless enough to warrant euthanasia.
"The idea is to update the law to take better account of dramatic situations and extremely harrowing cases we must find a response to," Socialist party leader Thierry Giet said in a statement after the law was first proposed late last year.
Statistics showed that 1,333 people were euthanized in the European country in 2011, accounting for about one percent of all deaths.
"The lessons are clear. Once you relax the law on euthanasia or assisted suicide steady extension will follow as night follows day," Peter Saunders, director of campaign group Care Not Killing, has said.
Christian groups, including the Roman Catholic Church in Belgium, are getting ready to protest this new proposal.
"We expressed our strong reservations regarding the decriminalization of euthanasia as early as 2002," said Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels Andre-Joseph Leonard . "First and foremost because we have excellent palliative care available today, and because we can rely on sedation, to the extent strictly necessary."
De Morgen reportedly noted, "On both sides of the linguistic border, liberals and socialists appear to agree on the fact that age should not be regarded as a decisive criteria in the event of a request for euthanasia."
According to 2011 statistics, about 49 percent of the Belgium population identifies as Christian, where Roman Catholicism has traditionally dominated, but as many as 31 percent said they are non-religious.
A 2011 report by The Christian Post found that almost every major Christian denomination is officially opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide; however beliefs differ on an individual basis.