The Dutch government has approved plans to allow euthanasia for terminally ill children aged between one and 12.
On Tuesday, Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said the rule change would prevent some children from “suffering hopelessly and unbearably”.
Euthanasia is currently legal in the Netherlands for children older than 12, with mandatory consent from the patient and their parents.
It is also legal for babies up to a year old with parental consent.
But there is no provision for those aged between one and 12 who are terminally ill.
The issue has proven extremely controversial and has triggered months of debate in the four-party ruling coalition government. There has also been strong opposition from conservative Christian parties.
But, following the government’s approval of the plans, Mr de Jonge said he would draft new regulations for the practice. He said a study by experts had noted a need for the rule change.
“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,” Mr de Jonge said in a letter to parliament.
He added that the study showed around five and 10 children a year would be affected by the rule change.
The current laws would not need to be changed, the health minister said, but doctors would be exempt from prosecution for carrying out an approved euthanasia on someone in this age range.
As with children over the age of 12, parental consent would be needed under the proposed rule change. The patient must also be enduring “unbearable and endless suffering” and at least two doctors must agree to the procedure.
The change is expected to be implemented in the next few months.
Euthanasia and assisted suicide has been legal in the Netherlands since 2002, and neighbouring Belgium followed suit months later.
The two countries were the first in the world to legalise the practice, albeit under very strict conditions,
In 2014, Belgium became the first country to allow for voluntary child euthanasia if they are terminally ill and in great pain and if they have parental consent. The Netherlands introduced the same rule for children over the age of 12 shortly afterwards.