Dutch pediatricians back right to die for children under 12

Agence France-Presse
A picture taken in April of 2005 in Brussels shows a kit available for general practitioners to carry out euthanasia at a patient's home.

Terminally ill children in unbearable suffering should be given the right to die, the Dutch Pediatricians Association said on Friday, urging the suppression of the current 12-year age limit.

"We feel that an arbitrary age limit such as 12 should be changed and that each child's ability to ask to die should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis," said Eduard Verhagen, a pediatrics professor at Groningen University who is on the association's ethics commission.

Children in the Netherlands aged 12 or over can request euthanasia if they are terminally ill, suffering unbearably, able to express their will and have parental approval.

"If a child under 12 satisfies the same conditions, pediatricians are currently powerless," said Verhagen. "It's time to address this problem."

Dutch pediatricians want a commission to be set up to examine the question further.

A change in the law would bring the Netherlands in line with Belgium, which in 2014 became the first country in the world to pass a law allowing euthanasia for a young child who has the "discernment" necessary to decide to give up life.

The Belgian law offers the possibility of euthanasia to children "in a hopeless medical situation of constant and unbearable suffering that cannot be eased and which will cause death in the short-term."

Counseling by doctors and a psychiatrist or psychologist is required, as is parental approval.

Belgian pediatricians said in 2013 that "in cases of serious illness and imminent death, minors develop very quickly a great maturity, to the point where they are often better able to reflect and express themselves on life than healthy people."

Verhagen said that five children were euthanized in the Netherlands between 2002 and 2015: a 12-year old and four youths aged 16 to 17.