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First child dies under Belgian euthanasia laws

19 September 2016

The Belgian parliament votes in favour of allowing euthanasia for terminally ill children in February 2014. Photograph: Francois Lenoir/Reuters

A terminally ill seventeen year old has become the first child to be killed through euthanasia in Belgium since age restrictions were removed two years ago.

Professor Wim Distelmans, the head of Belgium’s Federal Control and Evaluation Committee on Euthanasia, issued a statement confirming that the first physician induced death of a minor was reported to the committee by a doctor last week. Prof Distelmans said that the child, from a Dutch speaking area, was seventeen years old, and was "suffering unbearable physical pain.” No further details of the child’s condition have been released.

"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," Prof Distelmans told the Het Nieuwsblad newspaper, confirming that “palliative sedation” was used to end the child’s life.

Child Euthanasia 

Belgium is the only country in the world which has legalised euthanasia for children of all ages. Although this is the first case reported under euthanasia legislation, there is evidence of doctors in Belgium intervening in the deaths of disabled newborns. A 2005 study in the Lancet found that an “end of life decision” was made in 194 out of 253 cases. The Telegraph reported that paediatricians in the Dutch-speaking region of Belgium either discreetly stopped treating the babies or, in 17 cases, illegally killed them with lethal doses of painkillers.

"Respect for human life is being eroded" 

Responding to the reports, SPUC general secretary Paul Tully said: “This case shows how respect for human life is being further eroded in Belgium. Euthanasia was first legalised in Belgium in 2002, and age restrictions lifted in 2014, and it is now being used to kill children. This case involved a seventeen year old, but where will it end?

"Euthanasia is legal for children of any age. With children being killed in the womb through abortion, disabled babies dying through medical omission or even intention, and now active euthanasia, what we are seeing is an attack on life at all stages.”

“Although we do not have the full details of this case, killing is never the answer to physical suffering” Mr Tully continued. “Euthanasia is contrary to the ethos of medicine, which is to care, not to kill, and it is very worrying that ‘palliative sedation’ not good palliative care, was seen as the solution in this case. We are deeply saddened that a young person’s life was ended in this way. ”

“We can only hope that the evidence of what legalising euthanasia leads to will strengthen the UK Parliament’s resolve not to allow it in our country. We must be vigilant to ensure that euthanasia is not introduced by the courts or by Parliament, and campaign to protect life at all stages.”


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