Belgium to legalise euthanasia
(Filed: 22/09/2002)

Belgian doctors are to become the second in the world to legally carry out mercy killings when terminally-ill patients ask for help to end their lives.

The entry into force of the new legislation is the last stage in Belgium's controversial move to become after the Netherlands the second country in the world to legalize euthanasia.

Socialist Senator Philippe Mahoux, who helped draft the law, hailed it as recognition that a dying person in pain could be "the only judge of their quality of life and the dignity of their last moments".

The government adopted the final element of the new law at the end of last week, setting up a permanent committee to monitor the deaths. Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt said the committee would meet for the first time on Tuesday to approve the new official form doctors have to fill out every time they help a patient to die.

Under the law, a doctor who carries out euthanasia will not be guilty of committing a crime if the patient is terminally ill and has made the decision themselves, and if certain other legal procedures have been followed.

The law was adopted in a 86-51 vote by the Belgian parliament in May that provoked outrage from the influential Roman Catholic clergy. According to opinion polls published last year, 72 percent of those questioned said they supported the bill under certain conditions.