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Child euthanasia bill backed by Belgium public

Protesters opposed to the child euthanasia law in Brussels earlier this week. Photo: REUTERS/Laurent Dubrule

There is no age limit on suffering and now in Belgium no age limit on ending life to stop that suffering.

The country's Parliament has just voted 86 to 44 to allow doctors to end the lives of desperately ill children if the child says they want to die and their condition is without hope.

Euthanasia for adults was made legal in 2002 – and after addressing the arguments thoroughly back then, this latest decision has received relatively little public debate. Three quarters of the population say they agree with allowing children the chance to opt out of life when they can bear their suffering no longer.

There are strict conditions which must be met before a lethal injection can be administered..

A psychologist and team of doctors who are familiar with the child and their condition have to believe it is the correct choice and importantly the child must have the support of its parents.

Prof Jutte van der Werff Ten Bosch is a child oncologist at Brussels University Hospital and deals with some of the country's sickest children. She believes the real tragedy is forcing a child in terrible suffering to continue in turmoil and that allowing them to chose to die is right.

Earlier today she told me:

This is not about killing children. Its about fulfilling a demand they make to me that they want to die.

– Professor Jutte van der Werff Ten Bosch, child oncologist
Professor Jutte van der Werff Ten Bosch (pictured) supports the child euthanasia law. Credit: ITV News

“At the moment when a child has such thoughts we cannot help them at all. They are in pain and they are suffering a great deal and the only thing we can do is promise that we will kill their pain and we will help them but quite often we can’t. With this law we can speak to them about their thoughts and work through them together.”

And yet her view is not shared by others – most notably colleagues at the Catholic University hospital and it is telling that religious belief has provided the most significant divides in this debate. Professor Chris van Geet is opposed to the new law and believes it will have very little impact as few people would ever ask.

"We have so many possibilities to relieve children from their pain. You don’t have to go as far as euthanasia.

What frightens me is the slippery slope – that proponents of this law will seek to have it extended to much younger children who cannot make decisions for themselves

– Professor Chris van Geet, Catholic University Hospital
Belgium's lower house of parliament passed the child euthanasia bill by a large majority. Credit: REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

That view is shared by Izabela Karkocha and her mother – Izabella is now 18, six years ago she was diagnosed with the wasting illness Huntingtons Disease. Her physical and mental decline has left the little girl who was always top of her class utterly dependent on others. But still her mother Iwona insists no child should be allowed the option to end their life.

“For me a child cannot ask for its life to be terminated. Everyone wants to live, this is what Izabela said. Izabela does not want euthanasia and I would not either if I was ill.”

She went on to say the new law risks parents who are exhausted and lack support seeking the end of their child’s life as a last resort.

“You have to always ask, there is always somewhere or someone that can help,” she said.

Belgium’s King Philippe must now sign the bill into law – as his country becomes the first to allow euthanasia among its youngest members.