Global Euthanasia Laws

Global Euthanasia Laws

Euthanasia and/or assisted suicide are legal in very few places in the world. Several other countries (and states in the USA) are considering legislation that would legalise euthanasia.

  • Switzerland has allowed physician and non-physician assisted suicide since 1941, but prohibits euthanasia.
  • Australia's Northern territory legalised euthanasia in 1995, but it was repealed eight months later.
  • In l997 Oregon legalised physician- assisted suicide, but not euthanasia.
  • Colombia's Constitutional Court in 1997 approved medical voluntary euthanasia for terminally ill persons who have clearly given their consent.
  • The Netherlands introduced specific legislation to legalise assisted suicide and active euthanasia in 2002.
  • Belgium legalised euthanasia in 2002, but the laws seem to encompass assisted suicide as well.
While the vast majority of countries have no laws permitting active euthanasia or assisted suicide, reports show that they are practised illegally by some doctors, nurses and even by friends and family members of seriously ill patients.

Australia's Northern Territory became the first place in the world to legalise euthanasia. A private member's bill, Rights of the Terminally Ill Bill 1995, became law on 25 May, 1995, and was assented to on 16 June, 1995.

It permitted active euthanasia, under careful controls, when certain prerequisites were met. The law was opposed by the Australian Medical Association and a variety of right-to-life groups.

A "conscience vote" was allowed, in which members were free to vote, independently of party discipline. The original name was preserved. The law was called the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act and went into effect on 01 July, 1996. Similar bills were subsequently introduced in other Australian states.

Only four people were able to use it, all helped to die by Dr. Philip Nitschke, before it was repealed on 25 March, 1997, by the Australian Senate.

Oregon (USA)
In l997, Oregon legalised physician-assisted suicide but not euthanasia.

The Act requires that the patient must be:
  • 18 years of age or over

  • a resident of Oregon

  • capable (defined as able to make and communicate health care decisions)

  • diagnosed with a terminal, incurable and irreversible illness that will lead to death within 6 months

Patients, who meet these requirements, are eligible to request a prescription for lethal medication, from a licensed, Oregon physician. There are a number of further conditions necessary for receipt of the prescription, including repeated requests. A consulting physician must confirm diagnosis and capacity. The patient must be advised of palliative care and pain control and the patient must be requested but not required, to notify their next of kin of the prescription request.

Physicians and health care systems are under no obligation to participate in the implementation of the Act.

The Act also requires that the Oregon Health Division collects information about the use of its provisions, and publishes an annual statistical report. The first of these reports, published in December 1998, showed that 23 people received prescriptions for lethal medications in 1998, of which 15 died after taking these. Six of these people died of their underlying illness, and the remaining two were still alive at the beginning of 1999.

The Netherlands
The Netherlands introduced specific legislation to legalise assisted suicide and active euthanasia in 2002 but the country's courts have permitted them there, since 1984.

The Dutch laid out narrow guidelines for doctors. The patient, who must be suffering unbearably, and have no hope of improvement, must ask to die. The patient must clearly understand the condition and prognosis and a second doctor must agree with the decision to help the patient die.

Belgium legalised euthanasia in 2002, but the laws seem to encompass assisted suicide as well. Two doctors must be involved, as well as a psychologist if the patient's competency is in doubt. The doctor and patient negotiate whether death is to be by lethal injection or prescribed overdose.

Active euthanasia is illegal, under Article 114 of the Swiss Penal Code, although the Code provides for differential penalties depending upon motive. Swiss judges may thus mitigate the penalty if the person's motives were honourable, e.g., if the killing was motivated by mercy and at the individual's request.

Article 115 of the same Code defines "aiding and abetting suicide", the offense of which requires a selfish motive. Thus, an altruistically motivated death by physician assisted suicide is not punishable under Swiss law.

A right to die organisation in Switzerland, EXIT has ,since 1982, been providing assistance with dying in accordance with the law and a set of its own additional requirements, according to which the individual must be:
  • 18 years of age or over

  • a Swiss resident

  • mentally competent and

  • suffering from intolerable health problems
A doctor working with EXIT, considers the application, with reference to the additional expertise of lawyers, psychiatrists or other doctors if necessary, and a member of EXIT's team provides lethal medication to the patient. The police are informed after a death and appropriate officials notified, who then visit the scene to establish whether or not the death was within the law. Around 100-120 patients die, with the assistance of EXIT, each year.

Switzerland has allowed physician and non-physician assisted suicide, since 1941, but prohibits euthanasia.

Right-to-die organizations in the country help terminally ill people by providing counselling and lethal drugs. Death by injection is banned.

Colombia's Constitutional Court, in 1997, approved medical voluntary euthanasia for terminally ill persons, who have clearly given their consent. Colombia's parliament has never ratified it. Assisted suicide remains a crime.

Carlos Gaviria, the judge who wrote the court's majority ruling, is now a senator and plans to submit a bill to Congress, to regulate the practice.

It is solely up to the patient and his doctor to decide on whether to induce death. There is no legal obligation to report it to authorities.