Continued from page 1

In such cases, Van Berlaer said, a child may want to say goodbye to classmates and family, and ask if he or she can stop living.

“The thing is that it is an ultimate act of humanity and even love for the patients, minors in this case, that we at least listen to this question and think about why they would ask such a difficult thing,” Van Berlaer said. “And it will never be easy, even if the law changes now, things won’t be easier.”

By his estimate, only a handful of Belgian children, all in the teenage years, would be able each year to make use of the lifting of age restrictions. “If there is still a possible medical treatment, they will not be allowed to ask for euthanasia,” the Brussels pediatrician said.

The discernment clause, he said, should bar the law from applying to young children.

Dr. Marc Van Hoey, a general practitioner who is president of the Right to Die Association in the region of Flanders, also is in favor of the legislation. Euthanasia, he said, sometimes becomes the kindest and most caring option.

“I’ve seen quite a lot of persons dying in - how do you say in proper English - agony?” said Van Hoey. “If you see somebody who died in pain, you see his face completely with a kind of expression where you see the pain on the face.

“I never saw that when I gave someone euthanasia he or she asked for,” the doctor said.

Besides Belgium, the only other countries to have legalized euthanasia are the Netherlands and Luxembourg, said Kenneth Chambaere, a sociologist and member of the End-of-Life Care research group at the Free University Brussels and University of Ghent.

In Luxembourg, a patient must be 18. In the Netherlands, children between 12 and 15 may be euthanized with parents’ permission, while those who are 16 or 17 must notify their parents beforehand.