By Cecilia Rodriguez
Starting this week, Belgium becomes the first country in the world to lift all age restrictions on euthanasia – which already has been legal there for 12 years.
The controversial law took effect after King Philippe signed it on Sunday. While widely opposed by religious groups throughout Europe, it was supported by a strong majority of Belgians despite the fact that the country is predominantly Roman Catholic.
The bill, which was passed in parliament by an overwhelming majority last month, allows for terminally and incurably ill children to request euthanasia if they are near death, and suffering “constant and unbearable physical” pain with no available treatment. Parental consent, as well as the agreement of doctors and psychiatrists, is required.
Doctors opposing the law argued that modern medicine can alleviate the suffering of terminally ill patients.
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“We are saddened and fearful for the future after this law to extend euthanasia to children without any age limit,” said the Catholic bishops’ conference, according to the Catholic News Service. “We totally uphold the rights of the child, of which love and respect are the most important. But the right of the child to demand his own death is a step too far. It transgresses the prohibition of killing, which is the foundation of our human society.”
Speculation on whether Belgium will become a new destination for what is known as “death tourism” has also been raised by representatives of political parties opposed to lifting age restrictions for medically assisted deaths.
They argue that as cultural differences and moral reasons prevent most other nations from legalizing euthanasia, people will travel to countries that allow the practice. They worry that Belgium has opened its doors to death-seeking visitors.
Switzerland is known for the number of foreigners who travel there to end their lives, primarily at the pro-euthanasia nonprofit organization Dignitas. The majority are British, German and French.
Read more: Forbes.com
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