How Belgium's child euthanasia law will work

BRUSSELS (AP) — The Belgian House of Representatives has approved extending the country's euthanasia law to very sick children under 18, with some added restrictions. Legal experts and physicians explained to The Associated Press how it would work, step by step:

STEP 1: EUTHANASIA LAW Belgian law sets no specific timetable for euthanasia to be carried out from the time a patient first expresses the wish to be put to death. Dr. Gerlant van Berlaer, a pediatric critical care specialist at University Hospital Brussels, says in practice it takes weeks or months. A federal commission, half of whose 16 members must be medical doctors, was created by the 2002 law to examine all cases of euthanasia in Belgium and to ensure the procedures established by the law are respected.

STEP 2: INCURABLE ILLNESS The child must have a terminal and incurable illness, with death expected to occur "within a brief period." The child must also be experiencing "constant and unbearable physical suffering." Like for adults desiring euthanasia, that diagnosis and prognosis must be agreed upon by the treating physician and an outsider brought in to give a second opinion.

STEP 3: UNDERSTANDS WHAT THEY ARE DOING The child is to be interviewed by a pediatric psychiatrist or psychologist, who must determine that the child possesses "the capacity of discernment" and certify that in writing.

STEP 4: GETS THE AGREEMENT OF PARENTS The child's physician must meet with the child's parents or legal representatives to inform them of the results of the consultation, and ensure they are in agreement with the child's request to be euthanized.

STEP 5: REQUEST IN WRITING The child's request for euthanasia, as well as the agreement by parents or legal representatives, must be delivered in writing. STEP 6: EMOTIONAL SUPPORT FOR ALL The child and family must be given psychological care if they ask for it.

STEP 7: EUTHANASIA There are two methods, according to Dr. Marc Van Hoey of Antwerp who says he performs between three and 10 euthanasia procedures a year. A terminally ill person can drink a barbiturate-laden syrup themselves or a doctor can administer the drug into an intravenous tube. Death comes within minutes either way.

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