Brussels Archbishop André-Joseph Léonard has criticised efforts in Belgium to extend the euthanasia law to include minors afflicted with incurable disease or suffering and judged capable of discernment.
Léonard, head of the Belgian bishops' conference, said euthanasia undermined social solidarity and encouraged public opinion to think even questions of life and death were only personal decisions.
"This argument is certainly in step with today's culture," he told the Italian Catholic news agency SIR, talking of a "hidden and insidious influence" that made old people feel they should choose death rather than bother others to care for them.
"Belgian law does not allow minors to sign business contracts, to marry or sign documents with binding requirements in the future, but with this law, if passed, they will be able to decide to die even without the consent of their parents," he added.
Archbishop Léonard spoke as debate over euthanasia, which Belgium legalised in 2002, revived after a 44-year-old transsexual was helped to die because he suffered "unbearable psychological distress" over what he considered his failed sex-change operation.
Belgium reported 1,432 cases of euthanasia last year, or 2 per cent of all deaths. Its parliament barely defeated a bill to extend the law to minors and dementia sufferers last June but supporters of the plan aim to present it again in coming months.
The daily La Libre Belgique reported this month that 75 per cent of Belgians favoured extending the law.