On February 13, 2014, Belgium became the first country to legalize the euthanasia of minors. The law states that children can request euthanasia if they are “in great pain” and their condition is untreatable. Parents, doctors, and psychiatrists must approve of the child’s request. A recently released government report found that since then, in 2016 and 2017, three minors have been euthanized for “suffering from sufferable and incurable conditions which were already in a terminal phase.” These “conditions” included muscular dystrophy, brain tumors, and cystic fibrosis.
The law has been heavily criticized by the worldwide Catholic community for allowing children with disabilities and illnesses to be seen as “excessive burdens” on parents “and on the rest of society.” Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard of the Diocese of Brussels denounced the law for its hypocrisy, saying adolescents are thought of by society as being unable to “make important decisions on economic or emotional issues” yet they are now trusted “to decide that someone should make them die.”
Around the time the law’s passage was being debated, 160 Belgian pediatricians signed an open letter opposing the law, insisting that today’s medicine is capable of alleviating pain. The lay Community of Sant’Egidio was also vocal in its opposition to the law, saying it would be “opening the door to a new kind of barbarism.” Still, while Belgium is predominantly Roman Catholic (at least nominally), national surveys have found that the people of Belgium are the second-most accepting in Europe of the legalization of euthanasia.
Belgium has the most lax youth euthanasia law in Europe, compared to the Netherlands which permits only children older than 12 to be killed. In many European countries that experienced the barbarism of Nazism, euthanasia of children is still considered “morally repugnant.” A Research Gate study showed that while there was “high acceptance” among “a small cluster of Western European countries,” acceptance is “low to moderate” throughout “a large part of Europe.”