(Rectifies mispunch in lead)
* Belgium to extend euthanasia to minors of any age
* Broad backing by parliament and population
* Some critics see echoes of colonial era, Nazi practices
By Robert-Jan Bartunek
BRUSSELS, Feb 14 Belgian media expressed rank
incomprehension over foreign criticism of the country's
extension of euthanasia to children, portraying legislation as
humane and dismissing any notion of sick children being pressed
to their deaths.
Thursday's vote, the first to extend such provisions to
children without any age limit, passed as easily as 2002
legislation allowing euthanasia for adults that had backing from
75 percent of Belgians. It created only minor ripples of dissent
in the country, but a wave of interest and fury abroad.
"Belgium has allowed the killing on demand of terminally ill
children and has headed for the ethical abyss. A state which
allows something like this is a failing state," the conservative
German daily Die Welt said in a column.
The law covering euthanasia of minors is different to the
broader euthanasia law. Adults can opt for death by injection if
they find their condition intolerable and pain too great.
Cases have included deaf twin brothers about to go blind.
Children must also be shown to be terminally ill. The child
makes the decision, with parental consent.
In allowing euthanasia for a child of any age, Belgium will
move even beyond the neighbouring Netherlands, known for its
liberal attitude to a range of social issues, but where a
minimum age of 12 is set.
"For the first time since 1830 we have evolved to being
ethically progressive leaders. We can be quite proud of that,"
Belgian daily De Morgen said.
Some conservative U.S commentators were particularly
forthright in their criticism.
Christian televangelist and media mogul Pat Robertson saw
the law as symptom of a broader brutality he said was evident in
Belgium's colonial past in Africa.
"They tortured those natives, they cut off their hands if
they didn't produce. They whipped them and branded them. It was
just horrible," Robertson told U.S. Catholic Broadcast Network.
"So the Belgians are not necessarily known for their
U.S. publishing executive Steve Forbes wrote in an opinion
piece last month: "We are on the malignantly slippery slope to
becoming a society like that envisioned by Nazi Germany, one in
which 'undesirables' are disposed of like used tissue."
Such foreign criticism, which featured prominently in
Belgian media, met with bewilderment from local commentators who
saw the law as a humane provision to be used only in extreme
cases to end the suffering of children with no prospect of
"DIFFERENT LEVEL OF DEBATE"
Bart Sturtewagen, chief editor of De Standaard, one of the
country's largest daily newspapers, said that after 12 years of
legal euthanasia in the country, Belgians had grown used to it
as an option for the final stages of their lives.
"I'm annoyed at hearing 'you'll kill children' in the
foreign media. We don't use that kind of language anymore. It's
a very different debate on a different level," he said.
His newspaper's article on euthanasia on Friday headlined a
quote from a well-known Belgian journalist.
"Not since Dutroux, have we seen such interest (in
Belgium)," it said, referring to serial child killer Marc
Dutroux, whose crimes shocked the country in the 1990s.
The Catholic Church, at the forefront of opposition to the
bill in Belgium, held prayer vigils and its leaders expressed
Belgians are not shy of airing their views when they
disagree with the decisions of their politicians, but the
euthanasia question has not fired widespread debate.
More controvesy has been stirred by the possible
introduction of a per kilometre charge for car drivers. The mere
suggestion has drawn over 165,000 signatories to an online
petition to block the move.
"The highway charge affected everyone in the country with
about two cars per Belgian family. The euthanasia debate is more
abstract and everybody hopes never to be in the situation to
have to take such a decision," said Luc Rademakers, head of news
at Belgian state broadcaster VRT.
(Additional reporting by Philip Blenkinsop)