Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 305–315 | Cite as

The Extension of Belgium’s Euthanasia Law to Include Competent Minors

Original Research


Following considerable debate, the practice of euthanasia was legalized in Belgium in 2002, thereby making Belgium one of the few places in the world where this practice is legal. In 2014 the law was amended for the first time. The 2014 amendment makes euthanasia legally possible for all minors who repeatedly and voluntarily request euthanasia and who are judged to possess “capacity of discernment” (regardless of their biological age), as well as fulfil a number of other criteria of due care. This extension of the 2002 euthanasia law generated a lot of national and international debate and has been applauded by many and heavily criticized by others. This evolution is clearly of interest to end-of-life debates in the entire world. This paper will therefore describe how this amendment came to get passed using official documents from Belgium's Senate and Chamber of Representatives where this amendment was discussed and subsequently passed. Next, some of the most commonly given arguments in favour of the law are identified, as well as the arguments most often voiced against the amendment. All these arguments will be expanded upon and it will be examined whether they hold up to ethical scrutiny. Analysing the official documents and identifying the most commonly voiced arguments gives valuable insight into how Belgium came to amend its euthanasia law and why it did so in 2014. It also becomes clear that although the current amendment is often seen as far-reaching, more radical ideas were proposed during the drafting of the law. Also, in analysing those arguments in favour of the amendment and those against, it is clear that the validity of some of these is questionable.


Euthanasia Minors Belgium Ethical reflections 


  1. Act amending the Act of 28 May 2002 on euthanasia, sanctioning euthanasia for minors. 2014. Belgian Official Gazette, number 2014009093: 21053.Google Scholar
  2. Andrews, C. 2014. Child euthanasia bill is “counsel of despair,” says bioethicist. Interview with Prof. David Albert Jones., February 2014. Accessed June 23, 2015.
  3. Belgian Chamber of Representatives. 2014. Integral report with translated summary report of the speeches. CRIV 53. PLEN 185. Accessed June 23, 2015.
  4. Belgian Senate. 2000. Amendement voor wetsvoorstel betreffende de euthanasie. Document number 2-244/3. Accessed June 23, 2015.
  5. Belgian Senate. 2001. Bijlage bij wetsvoorstel betreffende de euthanasie. Document number 2-244/24. Accessed June 23, 2015.
  6. Belgian Senate. 2004. Wetsvoorstel tot wijziging van de wet van 28 mei 2002 betreffende de euthanasie. Document number 3-804/1. Accessed June 23, 2015.
  7. Belgian Senate. 2006. Wetsvoorstel tot aanvulling van de wet van 28 mei 2002 betreffende de euthanasie wat betreft minderjarigen. Document number 3-1993/1. Accessed June 23, 2015.
  8. Belgian Senate. 2010a. Wetsvoorstel tot wijziging van de wet van 28 mei 2002 betreffende de euthanasie wat minderjarigen van vijftien jaar en ouder betreft. Document number 5-179/1. Accessed June 23, 2015.
  9. Belgian Senate. 2010b. Wetsvoorstel tot wijziging van artikel 3 van de wet van 28 mei 2002 betreffende de euthanasie, inzake euthanasie bij minderjarigen. Document number 5-21/1. Accessed June 23, 2015.
  10. Belgian Senate. 2012. Wetsvoorstel tot aanvulling van de wet van 28 mei 2002 betreffende de euthanasie, wat minderjarigen betreft. Document number 5-1610/1. Accessed June 23, 2015.
  11. Belgian Senate. 2013a. Annex to Wetsvoorstel tot wijziging van de wet van 28 mei 2002 betreffende de euthanasie teneinde euthanasie voor minderjarigen mogelijk te maken. Document number 5-2170/8. Accessed June 23, 2015.
  12. Belgian Senate. 2013b. Wetsvoorstel tot wijziging van de wet van 28 mei 2002 betreffende de euthanasie teneinde euthanasie voor minderjarigen mogelijk te maken. Document number 5-2170/1. Accessed June 23, 2015.
  13. Belgian Senate. 2013c. Verslag namens de verenigde commissies voor de justitie en voor de sociale aangelegenheden. Document number 5-2170/4. Accessed June 23, 2015.
  14. Broeckaert, B., J. Gielen, T. Van Iersel, and S. Van den Branden. 2009. The attitude of Flemish palliative care physicians to euthanasia and assisted suicide: An empirical study. Ethical Perspectives 16(3): 311–335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Bruggeman, F. 2015. Nog geen enkel geval van euthanasie op minderjarigen., April 22. Accessed June 23, 2015
  16. Daly, P. 2015. Palliative sedation, foregoing life-sustaining treatment, and aid-in-dying: What is the difference? Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 36(3): 197–213.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Federale Controle- en Evaluatiecommissie Euthanasie. 2014. Zesde verslag aan de wetgevende kamers (2012–2013). Accessed June 23, 2015.
  18. Griffiths, J., H. Weyers, and M. Adams. 2008. Euthanasia and law in Europe. Portland: Hart Publishing.Google Scholar
  19. Hope, T. 2014. Morality, science, and Belgium’s child euthanasia law. OUP Blog, May 23. Accessed June 23, 2015.
  20. Kamm, F. 1998. Physician-assisted suicide, euthanasia, and intending death. In Physician assisted suicide: Expanding the debate, edited by M. Battin, R. Rhodes, and A. Silvers, 28–62. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  21. Kidd, D., trans. 2002. The Belgian Act on euthanasia of May, 28th 2002. Ethical Perspectives 9(2–3): 182–188Google Scholar
  22. Mee, S., B.G. Bunney, C. Reist, S.G. Potkin, and W.E. Bunney. 2006. Psychological pain: A review of evidence. Journal of Psychiatric Research 40(8): 680–690.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Mortier, F. 2003. Euthanasie bij minderjarigen. In Euthanasie: Nieuwe knelpunten in een voortgezette discussie, edited by M. Adams, J. Griffiths, and G. den Hartogh, 199–220. Kampen: Uitgeverij Kok.Google Scholar
  24. Onwuteaka-Philipsen, B., A. Brinkman-Stoppelenburg, C. Penning, G.J.F. de Jong-Krul, J.J. van Delden, and A. van der Heide. 2012. Trends in end-of-life practices before and after the enactment of the euthanasia law in the Netherlands from 1990 to 2010: A repeated cross-sectional survey. The Lancet 380(9845): 908–915.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Otlowski, M. 2000. Voluntary euthanasia and the common law. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Palmer, R., and G. Gillespie. 2014. Consent and capacity in children and young people. Archives of Disease in Childhood Education & Practice Edition 99(1): 2–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Parliamentary Assembly. 2014. Legalisation of euthanasia for children in Belgium. Written declaration No. 567. Doc. 13414. Accessed June 23, 2015.
  28. Patients’ Rights Act. 2002. Belgian Official Gazette, number 2002022737: 43719.Google Scholar
  29. Pool, R. 2004. “You’re not going to dehydrate mom, are you?” Euthanasia, versterving, and good death in the Netherlands. Social Science & Medicine 58(5): 955–966.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Pousset, G., J. Bilsen, J. Cohen, K. Chambaere, L. Deliens, and F. Mortier. 2010. Medical end-of-life decisions in children in Flanders, Belgium: A population-based post-mortem survey. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 164(6): 547–553.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Pousset, G., F. Mortier, J. Bilsen, J. Cohen, and L. Deliens. 2011a. Attitudes and practices of physicians regarding physician-assisted dying in minors. Archives of Disease in Childhood 96(10): 948–953.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Pousset, G., J. Bilsen, J. Cohen, F. Mortier, and L. Deliens. 2011b. Continuous deep sedation at the end of life of children in Flanders, Belgium. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management 41(2): 449–455.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Rachels, J. 1975. Active and passive euthanasia. The New England Journal of Medicine 292(2): 78–80.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. Seale, C. 2009. End-of-life decisions in the UK involving medical practitioners. Palliative Medicine 23(3): 198–204.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Siegel, A.M., D.A. Sisti, and A.A. Caplan. 2014. Pediatric euthanasia in Belgium: Disturbing developments. The Journal of the American Medical Association 311(19): 1963–1964.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  36. Singer, P. 2003. Voluntary euthanasia: A utilitarian perspective. Bioethics 17(5–6): 526–541.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Smith, W.J. 2014. A bioethicist’s farcical case for child euthanasia. LifeSiteNews, June 17, Opinion section. Accessed June 23, 2015.
  38. Traynor, I. 2014. Belgian law on euthanasia for children, with no age limit, will be first in world. The Guardian, February 12, World News section. Accessed June 23, 2015.
  39. van Berlaer, G., E. Duval, S. Debulpaep, et al. 2013. Haal levenseinde voor minderjarigen uit het duister. De Morgen, November 6, Opinion section. Accessed June 23, 2015.
  40. Van der Heide, A., L. Deliens, K. Faisst, et al. 2003. End-of-life decision-making in six European countries: Descriptive study. The Lancet 362(9381): 345–350.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Verhagen, E., and P.J.J. Sauer. 2005. The Groningen protocol—euthanasia in severely ill newborns. The New England Journal of Medicine 352(10): 959–962.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Journal of Bioethical Inquiry Pty Ltd. 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and Moral SciencesGhent UniversityGentBelgium
  2. 2.End-of-Life Care Research Group Ghent University & Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB)GentBelgium

Personalised recommendations