2002-05-15 17:02:46 -0400
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgium's lower house of parliament is expected to pass a controversial bill this week to decriminalise euthanasia.
The Belgian Senate approved the law last October. Passage by the lower chamber would make Belgium the second country after its neighbour, the Netherlands, to allow so-called mercy killings under strict conditions.
"People should be given the right to choose. I don't see why one group should impose its moral view on another," said Martine Dardenne of the Green Party, who will vote for the law.
The draft law differs from Dutch legislation in that it applies to patients older than 18 and sets different procedures for patients who are terminally ill and those who may have incurable diseases but still have years to live.
Belgian members of parliament began to debate the bill on Wednesday with a vote expected on Thursday.
The law, under consideration now for more than a year, has divided political parties with the Christian Democrats staunchly opposed to the legislation and the Socialist-Liberal-Green coalition supporting it.
"We stand against it because it's an extreme law. It does not contain any provision against abuse," said Yves Leterme of the Christian Democrats.
Some members of the rainbow coalition parties also voiced their objections.
"I'm one of those who won't be voting for the law because we've included the possibility of euthanasia for patients who are not terminally ill," Yolande Avontroodt, a doctor and member of the Green Party, told Reuters.
She said she also opposed the law because it allowed patients suffering from psychological problems to end their life.
"In the law euthanasia can be practised if there is physical or psychological illness. It is not 'and'," she noted.
Under the proposed legislation, any patient requesting euthanasia must be conscious when he makes his demand and must repeat his request.
In the case of someone who is not in the terminal stages of illness, a third medical opinion must be sought.
Every mercy-killing case must be filed at a special commission that would decide if the doctors in charge have obeyed regulations.
The right-to-die debate was rekindled in Europe recently when British
motor neurone disease sufferer Diane Pretty died, after losing a fight
in the British and European courts to end her life with her husband's help.
Copyright © 2002 Reuters Limited.