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Belgium Approved Euthanasia of 3 Minors, Report Finds

FILE - Doctors visit a patient at the intensive care unit of a children's hospital in Brussels, Nov. 25, 2013.
FILE - Doctors visit a patient at the intensive care unit of a children's hospital in Brussels, Nov. 25, 2013.

Belgian doctors have euthanized three minors in the past two years, according to a report from the nation's chief euthanasia regulatory body released earlier this month.

The report, produced by Belgium's Federal Commission for Euthanasia Control and Evaluation, said these three minors were the first to be euthanized since the country's parliament voted to lift age restrictions on euthanasia in the country, the first such law in the world. Euthanasia for adults has been legal in Belgium since 2002.

"There is no age for suffering," said Professor Wim Distelmans, chairman of the euthanasia committee. "Fortunately, euthanasia among young people remains very exceptional. Even if it were only one, the law would have been very useful. "

The minors were 9, 11 and 17 years old, according to the report. Their conditions ranged from muscular dystrophy to brain tumors to cystic fibrosis. The conditions of all three were determined to be terminal, and euthanasia was approved unanimously by the committee.

The report, part of a series released by the committee every two years, examined all euthanasia cases within Belgium from January 2016 to December 2017. The report said 4,337 euthanizations were administered in Belgium during that time. The majority of euthanizations — 2,781 — were for cancer patients. The second leading cause was "poly-pathologies," ranging from dementia and heart disease to incontinence and hearing loss, with 710 euthanizations listing "poly-pathology" as its primary reason.

Euthanasia cases rising

Since euthanasia was first legalized in Belgium in 2002, the number of deaths from it have steadily increased every year. In 2016, the report found, the number of people who died via euthanasia was 2,028. In 2017, that number jumped to 2,309, nearly a 14 percent increase.

The Netherlands and Belgium are the only two countries in the world that permit the euthanasia of minors. The Netherlands, however, restricts euthanasia to minors above the age of 12.

The 2014 law stipulated that before euthanasia can be considered for a minor, he or she must be suffering from terminal illness, face "unbearable physical suffering" and repeatedly request to die.

"The law says adolescents cannot make important decisions on economic or emotional issues, but suddenly they've become able to decide that someone should make them die," said Andre-Joseph Leonard, head of the Catholic Church in Belgium, following the passage of the 2014 law.

In 2017, a doctor resigned from Belgium's euthanasia commission, alleging that the committee had euthanized a demented patient who had not formally requested to die.