17-year-old is first minor to be euthanised in Belgium

BRUSSELS • A terminally ill 17- year-old has become the first minor to be euthanised in Belgium since age restrictions on such mercy killings in the country were lifted in 2014, media reported yesterday.

"The euthanasia has taken place," said Ms Jacqueline Herremans, a member of Belgium's federal euthanasia commission.

She added that the assisted death had taken place according to Belgian law.

Mr Wim Distelmans, head of the euthanasia commission, gave no details of the minor involved beyond saying it was an exceptional case of a child with a terminal illness, the Het Nieuwsblad newspaper reported.

VRT public television said the incident involved an adolescent who was about to turn 18.

"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," Mr Distelmans told the newspaper.

Since 2014, when its euthanasia legislation was amended, Belgium has been the only country in the world that allows terminally ill children of any age to choose to end their suffering - as long as they are conscious and capable of making rational decisions.

The Netherlands also allows mercy killings for children, but only for those aged over 12.

The Belgian amendment, which was passed after heated debate - notably over the meaning of a "capacity of discernment" - offers the possibility of euthanasia to children "in a hopeless medical situation of constant and unbearable suffering that cannot be eased and which will cause death in the short term".

Any request for euthanasia must be made by the minor, be studied by a team of doctors and an independent psychiatrist or psychologist, and have parental consent.

When amending the law, Belgian legislators had decided not to include psychological suffering in the list of factors determining whether euthanasia may be allowed for minors, though it is admissible for adults.

The 2014 vote was passed by 86 lawmakers in favour and 44 against, in the traditionally Catholic nation.

A poll that was taken a few months before the final parliamentary vote indicated that three-quarters of Belgians were in favour of extending euthanasia to minors.

Since the law was changed, there have been other euthanasia requests from minors but none had previously been granted, said Ms Herremans.

The whole process is "very controlled" and "often very long" and particularly difficult when it concerns a minor, she added.

Altogether, over 2,000 mercy killings were declared in Belgium last year, a record number since the practice was made legal in 2002.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2016, with the headline '17-year-old is first minor to be euthanised in Belgium'. Print Edition | Subscribe