Legality of Euthanasia in Different Countries and States

Euthanasia is defined as the act of intentionally ending a person’s life so as to help relieve suffering or pain. If for example a doctor was to give a patient suffering from a terminal condition such as cancer an overdose of drugs that would end the patient’s life, this would be considered as euthanasia. Deliberately aiding, or encouraging a person to commit suicide would also be considered as assisted suicide. A good example would be obtaining powerful sedatives for a terminally ill person with full awareness that the medication would be used for suicide. In which countries is euthanasia legal? What about euthanasia legality in the US?

Where Is Euthanasia Legal?

In some countries, euthanasia is legal and there have been various government policies that have implemented in support of the practice that is also referred to as mercy killing.

1. Belgium

Belgium is one of the countries that have legalized euthanasia and this law has been in place since September 2002. The law states that two doctors need to be involved in the process and a psychologist as well if the competency of the patient is in doubt. Both the patient and doctor decide on the best course of action to take in ending the patient’s life and this could be through a prescribed overdose or lethal injection.

2. Colombia

On May 20th 2010, the Colombian Constitutional Court ruled that no one would be held criminally accountable for terminating the life of a patient who is terminally ill and had authorized euthanasia. The court went to further define the term terminally ill as a person with condition such as AIDS, kidney failure, liver failure, cancer and other terminal conditions that come with extreme suffering. That said; euthanasia laws in Columbia do not authorize intentionally ending the lives of patient suffering from degenerative diseases such as Lou Gehrig’s disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

3. India

India is yet another country where euthanasia is legal. However, the law only recognizes passive euthanasia as legal. This law was passed by the Supreme Court of India in 2011 as a means to legally withdraw life support in patients who are in a permanent vegetative state. Active euthanasia is however still illegal and this includes using lethal compounds to end a person’s life.

4. Ireland

In Ireland, active euthanasia is illegal. However, it is not illegal to withdraw life support or other treatments if the patient or a next of kin requests for it. According to a poll published on the Irish Times, 57 percent of adults love to see doctor assisted suicide legalized if the patient requests it.

5. Luxembourg

Luxembourg was the third country in the EU to legalize euthanasia. The law was passed in a parliamentary bill that allowed doctors to end the lives of a terminally ill patient. This law requires that such a decision be reached with the approval of a panel of experts and two doctors.

6. Mexico

Although active euthanasia is illegal in Mexico, the law allows for passive euthanasia to take place. Close relatives of a terminally ill unconscious patient or the patient could refuse further treatment. This law has been applicable since 2008 and a similar law which sought to have some extended provisions that decriminalize active euthanasia is pending approval.

7. Netherlands

In Netherlands, euthanasia and doctor assisted suicide are both legal. Although the law was passed in 2002, the courts have permitted the practice since the 1980s and doctors are generally not obligated to keep patients alive contrary to their wishes. For over 20 years, the Netherlands courts have not been prosecuting physicians who facilitate euthanasia.

Where Is Euthanasia Legal in America?

Active euthanasia is illegal and prohibited throughout U.S. However, passive euthanasia  in which patients refuse treatment or require proper management of pain that may hasten death is legal.

Physician-assisted suicide is legal in some states of America, and these include Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont and California.

  • In Oregon, physician-assisted suicide was legalized under the Death With Dignity (DWD) Act which was implemented in 1997. The law allows patients with terminally ill or hopelessly ill conditions to request for lethal medication. The requirements are that the patient must have made two verbal requests and another in writing with a witness for the doctors to end his or her life. Two doctors also need to agree on the diagnosis, the prognosis of the disease and the capability of the patient. The patient will have to personally administer the medication.
  • Washington became the second state to legalize physician-assisted suicide after Oregon in 2008 and this was done via the Washington Death with Dignity Act. The Washington law is pretty similar to the Oregon law as it also requires that the patient makes two oral requests and a written one as well. The requests need to be 15 days apart and the patient must be suffering from a terminally ill condition with a life expectancy of six months or less.
  • In December 2009, in Montana, the physician-assisted suicide law was passed in the Montana First Judicial District Court in a case dubbed Baxter v. Montana. The ruling stated that a competent patient had the right to die with dignity. The law allows the physician to assist the patient by providing prescription lethal medication which the patient will take on their own.
  • In May 20th 2013, Vermont also joined the list of states that have legalized physician-assisted suicide. The law was introduced through act 39 of the End of Life Choices. The law also requires that the patient provide two oral and one written request.
  • Most recently in Oct. 5, 2015, California legalized physician-assisted suicide under the End of Life Act (effective January 1, 2016). The act requires that it can only be implemented when the patient is expected to die within 6 months or less. It also requires patients providing two oral requests that are at least 15 days apart and one written request.

It’s important to note that the patient needs to be a resident in all of the above states for a physician-assisted suicide.

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