Following months of intense debate, Belgium's parliament has passed a bill allowing euthanasia for children of all ages, leaving religious leaders dismayed.
According to BBC News, the Catholic Church staged a day of fasting and prayer in protest to the law, arguing that the law is "immoral" and based on "a logic that leads to the destruction of society's foundations."
"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," Brussels Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, head of the Catholic Church in Belgium, said at a prayer vigil last week.
Twelve years after legalizing "assisted suicide" for adults, Belgium's Lower House of Representatives adopted a legislation which states that any terminally ill child may request to end their suffering if "conscious'' and possessing "a capacity of discernment. "
The bill requires that children who request to be euthanized must "be in a hopeless medical situation of constant and unbearable suffering that cannot be eased and which will cause death in the short-term." The child must also be counseled by doctors and a psychiatrist or psychologist and have received parental approval.
"Our responsibility is to allow everybody to live, but also to die, in dignity," said Karine Lalieux, a Socialist member of the House of Representatives.
Prior to the final vote in the lower house, over a hundred pediatricians in opposition to the legislation petitioned lawmakers to postpone the vote, calling the euthanasia-for-all law "extreme" and "unnecessary."
Christian Democrat member Sonja Becq argued that modern palliative medication is capable of relieving pain in children, and allows illness to run a natural course to death.
"Pain can be eased nowadays, there's been huge progress in palliative care," said cancer specialist and signatory Nadine Francotte.
"Euthanasia is not the only way to die in dignity," she said. "Euthanasia is not 'a happy end."
However, lawmakers and physicians in favor of this new law commend it as "the ultimate gesture of humanity," and a public survey found 75 percent of Belgians supported extending the euthanasia law to children.
"Experience shows us that in cases of serious illness and imminent death, minors develop very quickly a great maturity, to the point where they are often better able to reflect and express themselves on life than healthy people," a group of pediatricians in favor of the law said in December.
Belgium is one of a few European countries to allow assisted suicide. The Netherlands legalized euthanasia for adults in 2002, and in rare cases for children 12 and older. Luxembourg allows euthanasia for adults; Switzerland allows doctors to help patients die under certain circumstances.