Parliament of Belgium on 14 February 2014 legalised death to terminally ill children of any age. The Parliament took the decision despite of opposition from the Church and some pediatricians. This action of legalizing death for the children came 12 years after the country legalised euthanasia for adults.
This ground-breaking legislation was adopted by 86 votes in favour. 44 votes were against the legislation with 12 abstentions. This legislation had given a chance of euthanasia to children in a hopeless medical situation of constant and unbearable suffering that cannot be eased and which will cause death on a short-term.
With this action, Belgium, the Catholic country, became the second country after Netherlands to allow mercy-killing for children and the first to lift all age restrictions. The legislation was voted following the results of opinion polls in which majority of Belgians backed the move with one survey by putting support at 75 percent.
Under the approved legislation by the Parliament, a young child will be allowed to end their life with the help of a doctor. The legislation has not fixed any age limit for minors suffering from a terminal illness to opt for the death by use of a lethal injection.
The legislation will become a law only after the royal signature.
Other European countries that allows active euthanasia are
• Luxembourg, which permits active euthanasia for over 18 years in age
• Switzerland lets doctors to help adult patients to commit suicide
India's postion on Euthanasia
The case for Euthanasia or mercy killing in India emerged with the filing of a petition by Pinki Virani for Aruna Shanbaug in Supreme Court in 2011. Aruna Shanbaug is lying almost in a vegetative state in King Edward Memorial Hospital in Mumbai since 1973. Pinky Virani, who is a journalist and has written a book on Shanbaug, argued in her petition that Shanbaug is being forced to live her life stripped of basic dignity.
Supreme Court taking her concerns as genuine, however, in Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug vs. Union of India case (2011) ruled in favour of Passive Euthanasia and not Active Euthanasia.However, passive euthanasia is contingent upon circumstances, for example, in the case of an irreversible coma.
Supreme Court also ruled that in each case, the relevant High Court will evaluate the merits of the case, and refer the case to a medical board before deciding on whether passive euthanasia can apply. And till Parliament introduces new laws on euthanasia, it is Ms Shanbaug's case that is to be used as a point of reference by other courts.
Even the 17th Law Commission of India under Former SC judge, Justice M Jagannadha Rao, in its 196th Report had earlier argued in favour of passive euthanasia and had drafted a bill named The Medical Treatment of Terminally-ill Patients (Protection of Patients and Medical Practitioners) Bill, 2006. The views expressed by the Supreme Court in Aruna Shanbaug case and 17th Law Commission was endorsed by the 19th Law Commission of India under Justice P V Reddi in its 241st Report.
Active euthanasia involves taking specific steps such as injecting the patient with a lethal substance e.g. Sodium Pentothal which causes the person to go in deep sleep in a few seconds and the person dies painlessly in sleep, thus it amounts to killing a person by a positive act in order to end suffering of a person in a state of terminal illness. It is considered illegal all over the world except where permitted by legislation. In India too it is illegal and a crime under Section 302 or Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code.
Passive euthanasia,otherwise known as negative euthanasia, involves withholding of medical treatment or withholding life support system for continuance of life e.g., withholding of antibiotic where without doing it, the patient is likely to die or removing the heart–lung machine from a patient in coma.