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After extensive debate, Belgium prepares to allow euthanasia for children

BRUSSELS--More than a decade after legalizing euthanasia for adults, Belgium is set this week to extend mercy-killing to terminally ill children after lengthy public debate over the ethical issues at stake.

Despite strong opposition from the Church and even some pediatricians, a bill allowing euthanasia for minors facing “unbearable physical suffering” goes up for debate in parliament's lower house Wednesday, before being put to a vote the following day.

If adopted as widely expected, the legislation will make Belgium only the second country after the Netherlands to allow incurably sick children to seek to end their lives.

While the Dutch law, the world's first euthanasia bill, enables mercy-killing in special cases for gravely ill patients 12 years or older, Belgium will be the first nation to lift all age restrictions.

The draft bill extending to minors Belgium's 2002 “right to die” law, states that a child must be equipped “with a capacity of discernment and be conscious at the moment of the request.”

The minor must also “be in a hopeless medical situation of constant and unbearable suffering that cannot be eased and which will cause death in the short-term.”

Counseling by doctors and a psychiatrist or psychologist is required, as is approval by the parents.

In the months of intense debate leading up to Thursday's vote, Church leaders argued that extending euthanasia to the young undermines society's basic moral values and “risks trivializing” death.

But proponents see it as a “humanist's” response to pain.

“Suffering must be taken into account,” Philippe Mahoux, the Socialist senator who sponsored the law, told AFP.

“It is illness and the death of children that is scandalous,” not the euthanasia bill, he added.

In a first vote in the Senate in December, the proposal won a resounding 71 votes in favor, with 17 against and four abstentions.

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