Doctors in Belgium have killed three children by euthanasia in the last two years, official figures have revealed.
The deaths of the “unemancipated minors” – children living under the cared of their parents – were among a record 2,309 cases reported to the authorities in 2016-2017.
They represent the first children to die by lethal injection since Belgium changed the law to allow child euthanasia in 2014.
Although their identities and ages have been kept secret, one is known to have died in late 2016 while the other two died in 2017. All are believed to have suffered from cancer.
Overall, the figures also reveal a 13 per cent increase in euthanasia deaths over the past year and the doubling of such deaths since 2011.
They show the number of euthanasia deaths in 2017 increased by almost 300 cases on the previous year alone, and nearly a tenfold increase since the 259 deaths recorded in 2002-2003, the first year of legal euthanasia in Belgium.
Crossbench peer Lord Carlile, co-chairman of Living and Dying Well, a parliamentary group opposed to euthanasia, said he was “profoundly shocked” both by the deaths of the children and by the soaring number of euthanasia cases.
“The euthanasia of those children is plainly contradictory of the European Convention on Human Rights,” he said.
“No parent and no public authority has the power to take away the life of anyone who is a child, whoever they are.”
He added: “The Belgium government is far too relaxed about this. It is not ensuring that appropriate checks are carried out and standards maintained.
“Belgium is perhaps the state that is causing the greatest concern in Europe about the way it administers euthanasia.”
The figures, contained in the 2018 annual report by the Federal Commission for the Control and Evaluation of Euthanasia, a government body, show that the majority of cases involved Dutch-speaking cancer patients over the age of 60 years.
Patients who asked for euthanasia because of “polypathologies”, comparatively minor and usually age-related illnesses such as hearing loss and incontinence, also doubled in the last four years from 232 cases to 444 cases.
About two per cent of euthanasia deaths were for psychiatric reasons.
Belgium became the first country in the world to allow child euthanasia when it extended its euthanasia law to terminally-ill children of any age deemed to be suffering unbearably.
To qualify the children must also be judged to have “capacity of discernment”, affirmed by a psychologist, and the consent of their parents.
Supporters of the child euthanasia argued during the passage of the Bill that just one person under 20 years had requested euthanasia in six years to 2014, to make the point that very few children would ask to die.
In the neighbouring Netherlands, the first country in Europe to legalise euthanasia since Nazi Germany, euthanasia is not permitted below the age of 12 years.
Both countries are commonly embroiled, however, in controversy about the uncontrolled spread of euthanasia.
The Belgian regulatory commission has faced criticism because some of its members are doctors who support and campaign for legal euthanasia.
In February, Dr Ludo Van Opdenbosch, a neurologist, resigned from the commission in protest at the unchecked killings of dementia patients.
In Holland, Berna van Baarsen, a medical ethicist, quit her post a month earlier, saying she could not support “a major shift” in the interpretation of the law to endorse the killings of dementia patients.
She followed Prof Theo Boer who stepped down in 2014 after he advised the House of Lords to vote against Lord Falconer’s Assisted Dying Bill, telling peers that he had made a mistake in believing that euthanasia could be controlled.
Dutch prosecutors appear to be attempting to ensure the law is observed with greater rigour because they have launched an investigation into the possible “criminal euthanasia” of four elderly women.
They include a woman who was drugged and pinned to her bed by her family after she fought to rip out the tubes administering a lethal cocktail of drugs.