Belgium's parliament has extended the right to die to terminally-ill children of all ages.
(Transcript from World News Radio)
Twelve years after legalising euthanasia for adults, Belgium's parliament has extended the right to die to terminally-ill children of all ages.
After months of heated debate over the matter, the ground-breaking legislation, which was voted in 86 to 44, makes Belgium the first country to introduce such a law.
As Aileen Phillips reports, the move has fuelled debate in the medical profession, and religious and advocacy groups.
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Belgium joins the Netherlands and Luxembourg in being the only three countries in Europe to allow euthanasia for adults.
The Netherlands' law also allows euthanasia for children older than 12, under some circumstances.
The Belgian law removes all age restrictions, stating that any incurably sick child may request to end their suffering if "conscious" and if equipped with what it calls a "capacity of discernment."
Under the Belgian law, psychologists must test children to confirm they understand what they are requesting.
Parents must also approve of their child's decision.
Supporters of the Belgian law say these safeguards mean the law would only apply to a handful of cases.
But an Australian-based anti-euthanasia group, called Hope, has condemned the Belgian move.
Director of Hope, Paul Russell dismisses the argument of pro-euthanasia supporters.
"It's still killing children. It's still crossing the line. I noticed that the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly and a number of members therefore made a statement the other day where they said that this is fact betrays some of the most vulnerable children in Belgium. And indeed we can picture that, certainly. These children are in an incredibly vulnerable situation but they also said that it promotes the unacceptable belief that a life can be unworthy of life. They have palliative care systems in Belgium which are amongst the best in Europe that can cope with pain and difficulty at the end of life."
Ahead of the vote in the Belgian parliament, Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders issued a joint declaration condemning the new law.
Catholic bishops led days of prayer and fasting against it.
Members of the Belgian parliament from the Christian Democrats Party, who are in the ruling coaition, voted against it.
Christian Democrat MP Sonja Becq explains why.
"Just put yourself in the position of that paediatrician...does this law give you the security that there will be no grey area any longer? No, you don't have that. The paediatricians don't have it, the parents don't have it, and the terminally ill children don't have it. And that is the reason, colleagues, why we will vote against this proposal"
Emeritus Professor of Medicine at Flinders University, John Willoughby is a convenor of the Australian-based pro-euthanasia advocacy group, Doctors for Voluntary Euthanasia Choice.
This group wants legalisation of voluntary euthanasia for adult Australians.
Professor Willoughby says his group hasn't adopted a formal position on the Belgian law.
But he says his personal view is that it may not be appropriate to legalise euthanasia for all ages.
"The facts of the matter is that there are children who are in incredible distress and it is a very fraught, tense, difficult situation for particularly the parents of course, not only the child, and the carers. It's a very complex situation in each situation. And my own private view is that it is a private matter for the community of individuals looking after the child at the time and the child themselves. I don't myself think it's a situation that lends itself to legislation and legalisation."