Belgian MPs set to vote on euthanasia for children
Brussels: Terminally ill children are set to win the right to die in Belgium when lawmakers vote on Thursday to extend a decade-old law allowing euthanasia for adults after months of often heated public debate.
Despite strong opposition from the Church and some pediatricians, the legislation is widely expected to pass, making the largely Catholic country the world`s second after the Netherlands to allow mercy-killing for children.
But unlike the Dutch across the border, where euthanasia is allowed for children over 12, the draft bill before Belgium`s House of Representatives lifts all age restrictions on the right of the incurably sick to end their lives -- a fact that has caused considerable controversy.
Socialist senator Philippe Mahoux, the author of the country`s ground-breaking 2002 "right to die" legislation and himself a doctor, called for the law to be widened to minors because medics were helping children in pain die as a question of mercy, but illegally.
Euthanasia is "the ultimate gesture of humanity" and "not a scandal", he said. "The scandal is illness and the death of children from disease."
The draft bill states that a child must be equipped "with a capacity of discernment and be conscious" on requesting to die.
The child must also "be in a hopeless medical situation of constant and unbearable suffering that cannot be eased and which will cause death in the short-term".
Counselling by doctors and a psychiatrist or psychologist is required, as is approval by the parents.
Before a first vote in the Senate in December, where the proposal was passed with a huge majority, the upper house consulted dozens of medical specialists, lawyers and interest groups.
But in the months of debate leading up to the vote, religious leaders of all faiths argued that extending euthanasia to the young undermined moral values and risked "trivialising" death.
The Catholic Church has staged "a day of fasting and prayer" in protest and this week some 160 pediatricians petitioned lawmakers to postpone the vote on the grounds it was both ill-prepared and unnecessary.
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