iStock_young_boyBelgium last week became the first country to allow euthanasia for children. 

Euthanasia has been legal for adults since 2002, but the new law allows children of any age to request euthanasia if they are incurably sick, are conscious, have their parents’ consent, and have a “capacity of discernment”.

Belgium is one of three European countries that allows euthanasia, along with Luxembourg and the Netherlands. The Dutch law allows euthanasia for children 12 years and older, but the Belgian law goes further by removing the age restriction.

The law has created controversy worldwide and is even drawing comparisons to Nazi Germany’s euthanasia programme for disabled childrenA letter signed by 160 Belgian paediatricians opposed the introduction of the law. 

A 2007 survey, published in the Journal of Medical Ethics in January this year, found that there was no explicit patient request in 79.7 per cent of euthanasia cases. About 1000 people die from euthanasia each year in Belgium.

In December 2012, Belgian twins Marc and Eddy Verbessem were killed despite not having a terminal illness. The twins, who were deaf and going blind, said they had “nothing to live for”, and so were granted their request for euthanasia.

Bioethicist and Palliative Care Specialist Dr Megan Best was interviewed on the Political Spot this week by the ACL’s Katherine Spackman about the law. Listen to her interview here.