A terminally ill 17-year-old has become the first minor to die of euthanasia in Belgium, the French news agency AFP reported Sept. 18.
Belgium lifted age restrictions on euthanasia in 2014, becoming the first country in the world to allow terminally-ill children of any age to choose death, as long as certain conditions are met.
Neither the teen’s identity nor medical condition prior to the procedure were disclosed by Belgium’s federal euthanasia commission charged with considering such requests, AFP reported.
“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,” euthanasia commission chief Wim Distelmans told AFP.
Commission member Jacqueline Herremans confirmed to the AFP that the procedure was conducted in accordance with Belgian law, which requires – among other stipulations – requests from a recipient who is conscious, capable of making rational decisions and suffering from physical instead of only psychological pain.
Belgium is among at least five countries including the Netherlands, Luxembourg, India and Colombia that allow euthanasia, distinguished by the physician dispensing a death-causing agent directly, according to the online resource newhealthguide.org.
Active euthanasia is illegal across the U.S., but physician-assisted suicide, distinguished by patients themselves administering a prescribed lethal medication, is legal in California, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington state. Passive euthanasia, in which patients refuse treatment or require pain management to hasten death, is legal across the U.S., newhealthguide.org said.
Belgium’s law requires that child recipients of euthanasia be deemed “in a hopeless medical situation of constant and unbearable suffering that cannot be eased and which will cause death in the short term,” AFP said. Requests must be made by the minor, studied by a team of doctors including an independent psychiatrist or psychologist, and approved by a parent.
Other Belgian minors have requested euthanasia but were denied, Herremans told AFP, describing the approval procedure as “very controlled,” “often very long,” and particularly difficult when it concerns minors.
Euthanasia killings totaled more than 2,000 in Belgium last year among all ages, AFP reported.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Diana Chandler is Baptist Press’ general assignment writer/editor.)