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Belgian Lawmakers Extend Euthanasia To Terminally Ill Children

The electronic voting board shows Belgian politicians voted in favor of the bill on child euthanasia at the Belgian federal Parliament in Brussels on Thursday. Belgium, one of the few countries where euthanasia is legal, takes the unprecedented step of extending the right to children.
Yves Logghe

We told you Wednesday about a Belgian proposal that would have made the country the first in the world to allow terminally ill children to choose euthanasia. Thursday, lawmakers in the country voted overwhelmingly to allow just that.

The vote in the House of Representatives was 86-44; there were 12 abstentions. The Senate voted last December to approve the measure. Belgian King Philippe is expected to sign the measure, which needs his assent to become law.

Here's more from The Associated Press:

"The law empowers children with terminal ailments who are in great pain to request to be put to death if their parents agree and a psychiatrist or psychologist find they are conscious of what their choice signifies. The law was opposed by some Belgian pediatricians and the country's leading Roman Catholic cleric."

As reporter Teri Schultz said on All Things Considered, Belgium legalized euthanasia in 2002 for those 18 and over; the number of adults choosing a doctor-assisted death has been rising annually, reaching 1,432 in 2012.

Teri spoke to Olivia Williams, a neonatal pediatrician, who said children should have the same options as adults in ending their pain and suffering.

"If you go to a geriatric ward, patients with the same quality of life and the same life expectancy as a 6-year-old with bone cancer, you wouldn't let them suffer," she said. "When they ask you to go, you'd let them go."

Els Van Hoof, a senator with the Flemish Christian Democratic party, who opposed the legislation, told Teri children can't possibly understand the implications of such a request.

"Beyond that, she believes the law is simply unnecessary, since Belgium already allows what's called palliative sedation," Teri noted. "That allows doctors to increase pain medication to the point of eventual death when a patient's end-of-life suffering can no longer be alleviated in a conscious state."

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Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.
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