Belgian Minor First to Be Given Euthanasia Rights

Science & Medicine

A terminally-ill 17-year-old in Belgium has been granted the right to an assisted suicide. The federal commission on euthanasia stated that the unnamed minor was suffering from severe and unbearable pain before granting them the right to end his/her life. This is the first minor to be granted permission since the government decided that age restriction was no longer relevant for assisted euthanasia. The death of the minor was confirmed on Saturday.

In order for the minor to go ahead with the decision, the teenager’s parents had to grant permission.

Belgium is the only European country that allows minors to participate in assisted suicide, though Holland will technically allow children as young as 12 to participate.

Liberal Senator Jean-Jacques De Gucht said of the assisted euthanasia:

“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 stage. It’s important that society doesn’t neglect people in such pain.” [1]

Belgium approved assisted suicide in 2002 for those in a “hopeless medical situation” and with their full consent. In 2014, the rules were amended to allow for minors to also receive doctor-assisted suicide.

Related: Could Being Hospitalized with an Infection Lead to Higher Suicide Risk? 

In order for a minor to take part in the program, which typically involves a doctor giving the ill person a lethal dose of barbiturates, they must meet very strict criteria. The case is reviewed by a team of medical professionals, including psychiatrists and psychologists.

According to Reuters, the law states, that the minor must be in a “terminal medical situation with constant and unbearable physical pain which cannot be assuaged and that will cause death in the short term.”

The rate of assisted suicide has risen since its introduction, accounting for 4.6% of all deaths in Belgium in 2013.

While lawmakers support the bill, there are many who do not. In 2014, a group of medical professionals signed a letter stating that they did not agree with the law and that people under 18 were not qualified to make a decision about ending their own lives.

The law has also faced opposition from the Catholic Church.


[1] Reuters