Belgium Extends Euthanasia Legalization To Children

Soon, Belgium will become the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia for children of all ages. On Thursday, the Belgian parliament passed a bill to allow terminally-ill patients under the age of 18 to undergo euthanasia with the help of their doctors, provided they have parental consent and have demonstrated awareness of knowing what they're doing. Euthanasia has been legal in Belgium since 2002, and this latest bill will extend access to the practice to Belgian citizens of all ages.

Once Belgian's King Phillippe signs the legislation, as he's expected to, the bill will become law. The passage of the legislation has stirred up some controversy in Belgium — 160 pediatricians signed a letter urging lawmakers not to pass it — but it passed without much difficulty, by 86-44.

So what constitutes euthanasia? It's defined as the practice of intentionally ending somebody’s life, usually when they’re terminally ill, with their permission and with the intent of ending pain and suffering. It's also flatly illegal in the U.S. However, several U.S. states have passed laws legalizing physician-assisted suicide, which differs from euthanasia in that the patient must administer the lethal drugs themselves as opposed to having them administered by a physician

The Belgian law requires that children possess “a capacity of discernment and be conscious” when requesting euthanasia. And it will only be available for children who are terminally ill; who are in great pain; and who lack any prospect of improvement.

Only three countries in the world have legalized euthanasia: Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Amongst those three, Belgium will have the most lenient euthanasia laws across the globe once the bill is signed.

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