The ruling Socialist party in Belgium has proposed new legislation that would allow euthanasia for children, The Washington Post reported on Thursday.
Euthanasia is already legal for people over the age of 18 in Belgium, but now the government is considering extending that right to children as well. The same legislation would also offer the right to die to adults suffering from early dementia.
Supporters of the law argue that euthanasia for children, with consent of the parents, is necessary in order to give families an alternative option in situations where children are suffering and near a painful death. Opponents are questioning whether children can reasonably decide the fate of their own lives, however. Supporters say that the principle of euthanasia is motivated by compassion. John Harris, a professor of bioethics at the University of Manchester has said that
It’s unfair to provide euthanasia differentially to some citizens and not to others if the need is equal.”
Only a few countries have legalized euthanasia. The Netherlands allows legal euthanasia under specific circumstances, while Luxembourg has also made euthanasia legal, but with less restrictions. Additionally, assisted suicide is allowed in Switzerland, where doctors help a patient die, but do not actively kill them. The United States has not jumped on the euthanasia bandwagon, but the state of Oregon grants assisted suicide requests to residents over the age of 18.
Belgium has been the leader in legalizing euthanasia. Since 2002, when the practice was first made legal, the number of reported euthanasia cases has risen from 235 deaths in 2003 to 1,432 in 2012.
The euthanasia debate has extended past the borders of Belgium, with various medical ethics professionals around the world questioning the ability of children to make decisions about the termination of their lives. Those in favor of the legislation say that children face the same questions when they are terminally ill, but may have different ways of approaching the issue. Supporters of euthanasia say that it’s only fair for families to have options in the case of a terminally ill child.