A 17-year-old girl was the first to die from euthanasia since policy makers lifted age restrictions on legal euthanasia in Belgium two years ago.
The girl was suffering from a terminal illness and, according to the euthanasia commission head Wim Distelmans, was going through “unbearable physical pain.” The patient was given pallative sedation to induce coma.
"Fortunately there are very few children who are considered [for euthanasia] but that does not mean we should refuse them the right to a dignified death," he told local Het Nieuwsblad newspaper, BBC reported.
He also emphasized that the girl was “almost 18,” in which case parental consent was necessary before the procedure could be done.
Liberal Senator Jean-Jacques De Gucht, who authored the law legalizing assisted death for minors, said it was comforting to know that young people in the terminal stages of illness and who suffer from pain are now faced with a choice.
“It’s terrible when a youngster suffers, but it gives me some comfort to know that now there is a choice out there for children in the final terminal stages,” De Gucht told the Associated Press. “It’s important that society doesn’t neglect people in such pain.”
Lawmakers gained a lot of public support when euthanasia for minors was legalized in 2014. However, the move was opposed by the Catholic Church, pro-life groups and a group of doctors.
Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition said euthanasia in the country has become a convenient “cover-up” for medical errors.
“Regardless of disability, life should be valued. To pass legislation that allows termination of life for people with disabilities who are minors is unacceptable,” he said. “Instead we must make every effort to use the research provided to us to provide attentive care to relieve their physical suffering in a moral way.”
Others who didn’t agree with lifting the age restrictions for euthanasia asked if it was right for minors to choose whether they want to live or die.
"A lot of people - in whatever profession - still have a problem coping with the idea that people can choose when they end their own life," De Gucht said.
Belgium stands as the only country that does not impose age restrictions for euthanasia. However, strictly enforced regulations are set in place prior to the procedure.
Aside from a minor needing parental consent, he or she should be at the final stages of a terminal illness. The person should also display an ability to make rational decisions. Furthermore, the minor should have expressed willingness for assisted death not just once but several times.
When such requirements are met, two doctors, one of whom is a psychiatrist, should approve the request.
The Catholic Church considered the news about Belgium’s first minor dying from euthanasia “worrisome” and “painful.”
“It pains us as Christians but it also pains us as persons,” Genoa Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco said, according to Italian news agency ANSA.