Media reported that under the amended law, euthanasia would become legal for children afflicted with "constant and unbearable physical suffering" and equipped "with a capacity of discernment." During a sometimes heated public debate in the run-up to the vote, religious leaders condemned the move as entering "a logic that leads to the destruction of society's foundations."
Although Europe is generally far more accepting of euthanasia or assisted suicide than the United States, only a handful of countries have formally legalized medical interventions to cause death. Luxembourg permits euthanasia for adults, and Switzerland allows doctors to help patients die but not to actively kill them. The Netherlands allows euthanasia in special cases for gravely ill patients 12 or older.
But Belgium - where adult euthanasia cases number around 1,000 a year - is the first country to propose lifting all age restrictions.
Philippe Mahoux, a Socialist Party senator and sponsor of the legislation, described giving terminally ill children the right to "die in dignity" as the "ultimate gesture of humanity."
He said the legislation did not seek to define death - "that is for theologians and philosophers" - but to allow young people, with the assent of their parents, to choose the manner of their dying in the event of terminal illness and intolerable physical pain.
Fifty of the 71 members of the Belgian Senate voted for the measure Thursday. Seventeen, mostly from the conservative, and traditionally Catholic, Christian Democrats, voted against. Four did not vote.