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Medical experts gave evidence to the Belgian Senate on Wednesday as the country’s upper house mulls giving children the right to die.
Euthanasia has been legal in Belgium since May 2002, but under very strict conditions. Under the current law, adults who suffer from a serious and incurable condition can make a voluntary and written request to die if they are in a “hopeless medical situation.”
Professor Dominique Biarent, who heads the intensive care unit at the Queen Fabiola Children’s University Hospital, told euronews that the law should be changed.
“Some children need to have an answer to their demands because they are suffering so much. They are asking for this,” said Biarent.
The Brussels-based doctor said her fellow colleagues have faced this issue for years and need some legal clarity to take away the fear of possible criminal prosecution.
She said doctors always see euthanasia as the last resort.
“We have been raised so we will cure people first. Our aim is always to try and cure a patient. But of course, the second aim is to care for them. Caring is also giving them conditions to die in dignity,” she said.
But Professor Biarent rejected the idea that allowing minors with serious and incurable conditions to end their own lives would lead to so-called ‘euthanasia tourism’.
“It’s a long process. You cannot just buy a ticket and so OK I will go for euthanasia. That’s impossible and nobody will accept that,” she told euronews.
Philippe Mahoux, a surgeon by training, is the Socialist Party senator who helped draft the 2002 euthanasia law.
Belgium was the second EU country to legalise the practice after the Netherlands.
One exception to thelaw is that children aged 15 and over who are ‘legally emancipated’ from their parents may decide to undergo euthanasia.
Mahoux now proposes that all children of any age with a serious and incurable disease and a sound mind should have the same rights.
“When we debated the euthanasia law ten years ago. Many of us said that those children and adolescents who are living in difficult circumstances with regards to death and illness, (we said) that they displayed greater lucidity (on this issue) than most adults,” he said.
Pro-life groups opposed Mahoux’s legislation in 2002.
Belgium’s Catholic Church was a vocal opponent a decade ago and it is making its voice heard this time as well.
Tommy Scholtes, a spokesman for the Belgian Bishops’ Conference, said the organisation preferred “a palliative care approach.”
“We propose sedation as a means of helping people to cope with pain and suffering,” he said.
Hearings from expert witnesses at Belgium’s upper house of parliament will last several months.
Senators and Belgian MPs will then examine the proposed changes once those hearings are over.
The latest available government figures, which date from 2011, show that there were 1,133 euthanasia requests during the year.