The Belgian parliament has passed a bill allowing euthanasia for terminally ill children without any age limit, by 86 votes to 44, with 12 abstentions.
When, as expected, the bill is signed by the king, Belgium will become the first country in the world to remove any age limit on the practice.
It may be requested by terminally ill children who are in great pain and who have no treatment available.
Opponents argue children cannot make such a difficult decision.
In the Netherlands, Belgium’s northern neighbour, euthanasia is legal for children over the age of 12, if there is parental consent.
Under the Dutch conditions, a patient’s request for euthanasia can be fulfilled by a doctor if the request is “voluntary and well-considered” and the patient is suffering unbearably, with no prospect of improvement.
Belgium passed a law decriminalising euthanasia for terminally ill people over the age of 18 in 2002.
Supporters of the legislation argue that in practice the law will affect an extremely small number of children, who would probably be in their teens.
The law states a child will have to be terminally ill, face “unbearable physical suffering” and make repeated requests to die – before euthanasia is considered.
Parents, doctors and psychiatrists would have to agree before a decision is made.
Protesters have lobbied politicians against the changes. Church leaders argued the law is immoral.
Some paediatricians have warned vulnerable children could be put at risk and have questioned whether a child can really be expected to make such a difficult choice.
But opinion polls have suggested broad support in Belgium for the changes.
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