The Netherlands is set to approve euthanasia for children under the age of 12

The move will free doctors from prosecution in what medical experts had called a grey area for children in that age bracket

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The coalition government of the Netherlands has moved to make euthanasia legal in the case of terminally ill children under the age of 12.

Health Minister Hugo de Jonge has said he will draft legislation to allow the practice. The government, made up of four parties, had long been split on the matter, with Christian parties the Christian Democrat Appeal party and ChristenUnie initially united against the move.

The switch is expected to soon take effect, and would free doctors from prosecution in what medical experts had called a grey area for children in that age bracket. The Netherlands already allows euthanasia in older kids, as well as for newborns up to a year old, should their parents consent. The new change, the Guardian reports, would likely involve between five and 10 children every year.

Minister De Jonge, the Guardian reports, said the change would help “a small group of terminally ill children who agonise with no hope, and unbearable suffering.”

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The children impacted can receive palliative care, or have food withheld to usher in death. But any doctor taking separate actions to these could face prosecution.

In a letter to the Dutch parliament, in which he stressed that doctors and loved ones were calling for the law in a recent study, De Jonge said:

“The study shows that there is a need for active termination of life among doctors and parents of incurably ill children, who are suffering hopelessly and unbearably and will die within the foreseeable future.”

There were 6,361 euthanasia cases last year in the Netherlands, which is more than four per cent of the total deaths in the nation. More than nine out of ten were related to terminal conditions.

The Guardian reports that in 2014, Belgium became the first country to allow voluntary child euthanasia. In 2016 and 2017, two children, one aged nine and the other 11, were the first in the country to die in that manner.

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