A minor with a terminal disease has become the first patient to undergo euthanasia in Belgium since age limits on the procedure were lifted two years ago, according to authorities.
The head of the country’s federal euthanasia commission confirmed the incidents but did not disclose details, reports the BBC.
Belgium is the only country in the world that allows minors, not matter what age, to choose if they want to have euthanasia. The conditions are that the minor must have the capacity to make rational decisions and must be in the last stage of a terminal condition. Parents of patients under 18 who choose euthanasia must also give their consent for it to push through.
Wim Distelmans of the federal euthanasia committee said,
Fortunately there are very few children who are considered [for euthanasia] but that does not mean we should refuse them the right to a dignified death.
He told Reuters that a local doctor made the report to the agency last week. The patient’s age was not been made public.
The Netherlands likewise lets euthanasia proceed for minors, but the age limit is 12. Belgium, which previously had similar restrictions, erased them in 2014. The law, passed by parliament, sets the parameters for euthanasia in minors as: must be terminally ill, must be facing “unbearable physical suffering” and must have made repeated requests for euthanasia.
Opponents of the measure, including church leaders and some doctors, have questioned on whether children and adolescents were capable of making such a complex decision.
Belgium and The Netherlands are the only two countries where euthanasia is permitted for patients under 18 years old. Luxembourg and Colombia are the only other countries that allow euthanasia, but only for adults.
Elsewhere, Switzerland allows assisted suicide if the motive is unselfish, and California, Oregon, Washington, Montana and Vermont permit assisted dying. In Canada, doctor-assisted dying was passed only this year.
Euthanasia is when an intervention is done to end a life, in order to ease suffering, mostly in the form of a lethal injection given by a doctor. Assisted suicide is when a person is intentionally given the means to end their life, usually through prescribed medications, and assisted dying is used in the US and the UK to mean assisted suicide or those with terminal illnesses.