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Terminally ill youngster helped to die in Belgium

A terminally ill minor has become the first juvenile to be helped to die in Belgium since it removed age restrictions on euthanasia two years ago.

Senator Jean-Jacques De Gucht confirmed the minor who died was from Belgium's Flemish region, and was in the "final stages" of an illness.

Mr De Gucht, who wrote the country's euthanasia law, would not reveal any details about the patient to protect the grieving family's privacy.

He said it is "terrible when a youngster suffers" and "it's important that society doesn't neglect people in such pain".

Mr De Gucht said Belgium is the only country which allows minors of any age assistance in dying.

The Belgian law has very strict rules for the euthanasia to be approved. It requires the minor to be in the final stages of a terminal illness, to understand the difference between life and death rationally and to have asked to end his or her life on repeated occasions.

It also requires parental consent and, finally, the approval of two doctors, including a psychiatrist.

The law - one of the most far-reaching in the western world - had wide public support when it was introduced in 2014, but was opposed by some paediatricians and the country's Roman Catholic clergy.

As Belgian house of representative members cast their ballots and an electronic tally board lit up with enough green lights to indicate the measure would carry, a lone protester in the chamber shouted: "Assassins."

Socialist Hans Bonte said at the time that no member of the House hoped the law would ever be used.

But he said all Belgians, including minors, deserved the right to "bid farewell to life in humane circumstances" without having to fear they were breaking the law.

Some have questioned whether children should be allowed to make the choice between life and death. In 2014, a group of doctors signed a group letter to voice opposition to the measure.

Mr De Gucht said: "A lot of people - in whatever profession - still have a problem coping with the idea that people can choose when they end their own life."



From Belfast Telegraph