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First minor euthanised in Belgium

The minor was 17 years of age with a terminal illness. (Representative Image) Photograph: (AFP)

WION Belgium Sep 17, 2016, 09.46 PM (IST)
A 17-year-old was euthanised in Belgium, the first minor to do so after the country lifted age restrictions on mercy killings.

The new rules adopted in 2014 allow euthanasia for people of all ages. 

The head of the national committee for euthanasia, Wim Distelmans, said a local doctor had reported the case to his committee last week. 

He gave no details of the minor beyond saying it was an exceptional case of a child with a terminal illness.

"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," Wim Distelmans said.

Belgian Senator Jean-Jacques De Gucht advocated in favour of mercy killings and said the teenagers had a right to make a considered choice.

"You cannot compare an adolescent that isn't being confronted with illness with a young person who is staring at death in its very eyes. So, you have 14-15 years-olds very well aware of the situation they're in and I think it's very important that we, as a society, have given the opportunity to those people to decide for themselves in what manner they want to cope with that situation," he said.

Belgium is the only country in the world that allows euthanasia on terminally-ill children of any age. It gives the minors the right to end their suffering, only if they are conscious and capable of rational decisions.

The Netherlands also allows mercy killings for children, but only for those aged over 12. Luxembourg approved euthanasia but for adults only in 2009.

The mercy killing law in Belgium was amended after a long debate. To undergo euthanasia, the law says a minor must also be in a "terminal medical situation with constant and unbearable physical pain which cannot be assuaged and that will cause death in the short-term."

The law requires the request to be made by the minor, which would be reviewed by a team of doctors and an independent psychiatrist or psychologist and have parental consent.

But the Belgian legislators had decided not to include psychological suffering in the list of factors determining whether euthanasia may be allowed for minors, though it is admissable for adults.

Since Belgium legalised euthanasia in 2002, the number of patients being euthanised rose nearly eight-fold to a total number of 8,752 cases, as per data from the national euthanasia control committee.

(WION with inputs from agencies)

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