The Right to Death in Belgium

Last week, Belgium passed a law making euthansia legal for terminally ill children of any age. Before, only adults could legally ask for an end to their suffering. Now, any child, with the permission of his parents and a psychiatrist, can choose death over pain.

Euthanasia legal status 2009 world map

In green are the countries where euthanasia is legal. In red are the countries where euthanasia is illegal.

Belgium is just one of three countries euthanasia has been legalized by the government. Of the three, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, two countries have also given children this right. In fact, it has almost been 10 years since the Netherlands have allowed euthanasia for children as young as 12.

Physician-assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland and surprisingly, some states in the US. Just south of the border, assisted suicide has been permitted in Washington since 2008. Yet here in Canada, assisted suicide is illegal.

This has lead to many court cases over the years with people declaring that they have the right to a dignified death but the law has been upheld, so far. Currently, Quebec is deciding whether to vote on Bill 52, which would allow medical aid in dying to be legal.

Looking at the countries where euthanasia is currently legal, it seems that they are all developed nations with reputations as wonderful places to live. So why does Canada not follow their lead and decriminalize euthanasia?

The debate: Respect for Life vs. Quality of Life

People against legal euthanasia argue that all life is precious, and rightfully so. Therefore, it should be illegal to willingly end someone’s life or even assist with ending his life. There is also the fear that people in their moment of weakness may choose death instead of fighting for their life.

On the other hand, for terminally ill patients, their quality of life has deteriorated to the point where death is a better option than living. Is it fair to ask someone to spend the rest of their lives suffering when death could bring relief? Maybe in the end, it is best for individuals to decide for themselves what they want to do with their life.


Photo Credit: Leo Roubos

Some last thoughts on Belgium:

  • 18 is the age of majority
  • voting is compulsory for those 18 or older
  • you can only drop out of school once you turn 18
  • you must be 18 before you can obtain a drivers license but you may fly a plane at 16
  • you can legally drink and smoke at 16

So before you can drink, drive, smoke, or vote in Belgium, you can choose to die.


Check out an episode we produced on the subject, “The End of the Road.”

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Alice Gu is a second-year science student. She hopes to share some of the fascinating events developing in the world around us.