14/08/2014 16:55 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Euthanasia For Kids: Sick Children Could Be Given Right To Die In Belgium

belgium. belgian flag painted...

The word 'controversial' is often misplaced, but in this case it is the understatement of the year.

For it has it been revealed that children in Belgium could be given the right to end their own lives.

Euthanasia is already legal for people over the age of 18 in the country but it could be extended to cover children.

Supporters of the changes argue that euthanasia for children, with the consent of their parents, is necessary to give families an option in a desperately painful situation.

But opponents have questioned whether children can reasonably decide to end their own lives.

Belgium is already a euthanasia pioneer and it legalised the practice for adults in 2002.

In the last decade, the number of reported cases per year has risen from 235 deaths in 2003 to 1,432 in 2012, the last year for which statistics are available.

Belgium's ruling Socialist party has proposed the bill expanding the right to die, not only to sick children but to adults with early dementia.

The Christian Democratic Flemish party vowed to oppose the legislation and if it passes they say they will challenge it in the European Court of Human Rights.

A final decision must be approved by Parliament and could take months.

One opponent, Catholic Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, said: "It is strange that minors are considered legally incompetent in key areas, such as getting married, but might (be able) to decide to die."

He said alternatives like palliative sedation make euthanasia unnecessary - and relieves doctors of the burden of having to kill patients. In palliative sedation, patients are sedated and life-sustaining support is withdrawn so they starve to death; the process can take days.

There are others, though, who argue that because Belgium has already approved euthanasia for adults, it is unjust to deny it to children.

"The principle of euthanasia for children sounds shocking at first, but it's motivated by compassion and protection," said John Harris, a professor of bioethics at the University of Manchester.

"It's unfair to provide euthanasia differentially to some citizens and not to others if the need is equal."