In this 2013 photo, doctors visit a patient at the intensive care unit of the Queen Fabiola Children’s Hospital in Brussels. (Image: AP)

A terminally ill 17-year-old has become the first minor to be helped to die in Belgium since age restrictions on euthanasia requests were eliminated two years ago. It’s a historic precedent that could influence suicide laws elsewhere.

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As of 2014, Belgium is the first and only country in the world that allows minors of any age to choose doctor-assisted death. A 17-year-old suffering from an undisclosed illness has now become the first person to take advantage of this provision—an important precedent that could have repercussions in countries where euthanasia is legal. What’s more, child advocacy groups see it as an important step forward in the effort to have doctor-assisted death be made available to minors, and not just adults.

“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 stages,” noted Belgian Liberal Senator Jean-Jacques De Gucht in an Associated Press article. “It’s important that society doesn’t neglect people in such pain.”

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Voluntary euthanasia may be accessible to minors in Belgium, but the controversial practice is bound by strict rules. It requires a child to be in the final stages of a terminal illness, and to comprehend the implications of choosing death over life at a rational level. Minors also need to have asked to die on multiple occasions, and receive the consent of parents and two doctors, including a psychiatrist. In this case, the unnamed teen was “suffering unbearable physical pain,” and had asked to die by suicide.

Minors can also opt for doctor-assisted death in Holland but only after the age of 12. As of 2014, no such restriction exists in Belgium.

[CBC, Associated Press]