Navigation for Spiritual Outlook

Nestled in the lowlands of Europe north of France, Belgium is generally a country that doesn’t create many headlines. Earlier this year though, its parliament voted to allow children to decide whether they wanted to end their own lives. Now even a four-year-old can make the choice that their illness is so serious or quality of life so diminished that they can opt for euthanasia. This raises moral, ethical and spiritual questions throughout Belgium and its European neighbours such as France and Great Britain where there are debates about the right to die.

John Laurenson reports from Belgium, a traditionally Catholic country which has seen its church attendance drop significantly, to hear from doctors, terminally ill patients and religious figures at the heart of this argument.

He starts his journey at a day centre in the Belgian capital Brussels where he meets Madelaine who has Alzheimer’s and has decided she wishes to end her own life. She is a Catholic, but the church's teachings say that suicide is a sin. She tells John that the priest at her church has started to ignore her when she attends Mass, summing up the split in this country where five lives a day are ended under its euthanasia laws.

Many religious figures though do support the laws and the right for seriously or terminally ill people to end their lives early. He travels to the town of Hasselt in the Flemish speaking part of this small country to meet Father Marc Desmet who works in the palliative care unit of the local hospital about how his two vocations as a priest and carer shape his ideas on euthanasia.

See the BBC website for more on this programme.