Countries Where Euthanasia is Legal / Where Is Euthanasia Legal? 2023

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Euthanasia is medically assisted suicide in which a physician takes action to deliberately induce death in the patient. In countries where euthanasia is legal, individuals who are terminally ill and experiencing intense pain with no hope of recovery may choose to die quickly and painlessly via euthanasia rather than endure a prolonged, painful, and potentially expensive illness. Euthanasia is sometimes alternately referred to as a "mercy killing."

Euthanasia is illegal in almost all of the world's countries and can even result in a murder conviction for the administering physician. However, a small-but-growing number of countries have legalized euthanasia in certain extreme cases, which must meet stringent conditions. In most countries in which euthanasia is legal, the patient must be suffering from a terminal illness with no hope of recovery and must be in significant pain. Moreover, the administering physician must have nothing to gain from the patient's death (an inheritance, for example). Some countries have additional requirements, such as forbidding the physician from offering euthanasia (Australia) or requiring at least one additional physician to confirm the diagnosis (Netherlands).

Countries Where Active Euthanasia is Legal (in Certain Circumstances):

Australia Colombia New Zealand
Belgium Luxembourg Spain
Canada Netherlands

Euthanasia can be either passive, in which medical efforts to prolong the patient's life are terminated and the disease is allowed to take its course, or active, in which the physician triggers death by prescribing and/or administering a lethal dose of medication. Additionally, most euthanasia—and all legal euthanasia—is voluntary euthanasia, meaning the patient agrees to (and most likely requested) the procedure. If the patient cannot give consent, such as with infants or incapacitated individuals, the procedure is classified as non-voluntary euthanasia. Cases in which the patient specifically does not agree are classified as involuntary euthanasia and are classified as murder in most countries.

Euthanasia is highly controversial. Some critics object on spiritual grounds, maintaining that God gives all life, and only God has the right to take it. Others object based upon euthanasia's potential impact on society—for example, the possibility that if euthanasia becomes legal, doctors could begin euthanizing patients against their wishes. Nazi Germany provided a real-world example of this possiblity, forcibly "euthanizing" thousands of handicapped children and adults as part of its Aktion T4 program. Overall, euthanasia is quite uncommon globally and is typically seen as a last resort for those who request it.

Euthanasia laws by country

Australia

Laws for "voluntary assisted dying" vary by state and territory in Australia. Euthanasia became legal in all six Australian states between 2019 and 2022 (though the laws legalizing it were not scheduled to enter into effect until 2023 in some states). Though the details of the procedure vary slightly from state to state, common elements include requirements that the patient must have an incurable condition that will result in their death within 6 months (12 months for neurodegenerative disorders), must be a legal adult and resident of the state, and must consult at least two physicians. Euthanasia is not yet legal in the Australian territories.

Belgium

Euthanasia was legalized in Belgium in 2002 for adults (making Belgium just the second country in the EU, after Netherlands, to legalize euthanasia) and in 2013 for children. As in most countries, those who choose euthanasia tend to be those suffering through unbearable physical pain with no hope of recovery. Unlike many countries, this is not a requirement. An adult who is not terminally ill may still request euthanasia, although a one-month waiting period is required. Children must have a terminal illness, be in "great pain", and fully understand the procedure. Belgium is also one of the few countries that allow euthanasia in patients with mental illnesses (such as degenerative neurological conditions), though they must still display a clear understanding of what the process entails.

Canada

Canada allows euthanasia for adults who have a terminal illness that has made their death "reasonably forseeable." While this wording has drawn criticism for excluding those who are not terminally ill, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that it could also apply to those with non-terminal, but grievous and incurable conditions.

Chile

While active euthanasia and assisted suicide are still prohibited in Chile, passive euthanasia has been legal since 2012, when terminal patients were given the right to decline medical treatment. However, a bill to legalize both active euthanasia and assisted suicide was making its way through the Chilean legislature in 2020 and could soon enter into law.

Colombia

Euthanasia was originally legal in Colombia for patients with terminal cases of cancer, AIDS, or kidney or liver failure. A July 2021 ruling extended the options to additional patients, including some with non-terminal afflictions.

Denmark

Denmark has neither legalized nor criminalized euthanasia. A 2003 study published by the Lancet found that active euthanasia occurred in roughly 1% of deaths in Denmark.

Finland

Passive euthanasia is legal in Finland, though active euthanasia had not yet become legal as of late 2022.

France

In France, euthanasia is not permitted. However, terminal patients can request to be heavily sedated until they die.

Germany

Passive euthanasia became legal in Germany in 2014, though active euthanasia is still legally prohibited. However, a 2020 ruling by Germany's Federal Constitutional Court determined that prosecuting physicians who offered patients suicide assistance actually violated the patient's right to self-determination. How this impacts the long-term possibility of legal active euthanasia in Germany remains to be seen.

India

Legal euthanasia is still in its formative stages in India. Active euthanasia remains illegal, but passive euthanasia was legalized in 2018 for patients who are brain-dead or in a permanent vegetative state.

Ireland

While active euthanasia is still prohibited in Ireland, a 2010 poll showed that 57% of adults supported giving terminally ill patients the option to choose euthanization. In certain circumstances, doctors can legally discontinue life-support efforts such as feeding tubes and ventilators. A bill known as the "Dying with Dignity Bill" was making its way through the legislature as of late 2020 and could further legalize euthanasia.

Israel

All forms of euthanasia are technically illegal in Israel. However, the courts have allowed euthanasia in a few specific instances. While Jewish law seems to clearly prohibit active euthanasia, interpretations do exist that arguably authorize passive euthanasia.

Japan

Euthanasia is neither illegal nor explicitly legal in Japan, which currently lacks laws regarding the practice. Historically, cases of both passive and active euthanasia have occurred and have not resulted in arrests. The unofficial requirements for passive euthanasia are that the patient must be suffering from an incurable terminal disease, must have requested euthanasia (if incapacitated, living wills and family testimony suffice), and must have a condition in which cessation of treatment (chemotherapy, IV drip, dialysis, etc.) would result in death. Active euthanasia requires direct patient consent (living wills and family testimony are insufficient) and further stipulates that the patient must be in pain, near death, and out of alternate pain management options.

Luxembourg

Luxembourg legalized euthanasia in 2009, becoming just the third country in the European Union to do so. Patients must be terminally ill and have the approval of two doctors as well as a panel of experts.

Mexico

While active euthanasia is prohibited in Mexico, passive euthanasia, in which a patient can decline further life-prolonging treatment, is legal. Efforts to legalize active euthanasia are opposed by the Catholic Church, which urges devotees and lawmakers to consider life sacred "from the moment of conception until natural death." Unassisted euthanasia is quite possible in Mexico due to the poorly regulated drug trade, which enables individuals to access the drug pentobarbital fairly easily. Pentobarbital is a favorite among veterinarians and would-be self-euthanizers, including international travelers who visit Mexico specifically to acquire the drug.

Netherlands

Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalize euthanasia, having done so in April 2001 (with the law taking effect in April 2002). Both passive and active euthanasia are legal. In the Netherlands, a patient who is in chronic pain, who will not recover, and who is fully aware of their situation can request active euthanasia. Their affliction need not be terminal, but the physician involved must consult with at least one independent physician to ensure that the patient meets the criteria for euthanasia and the procedure must be carried out in a medically responsible way. Children as young as 12 can request euthanasia, but those between the ages of 12 adn 16 must have parental permission.

New Zealand

With the passage of New Zealand's End of Life Choice Act 2019, which entered into force in November 2021, "assisted dying" is legal in New Zealand under specific circumstances. The patient must be a citizen or permanent resident of New Zealand, aged 18 or older, and suffering from a terminal illness with no chance of recovery. They must be within six months of death due to their affliction, undergoing physical decline and suffering greatly, and fully aware of their scenario and able to communicate their desires. If the patient requests euthanasia and two physicians agree that the patient meets the required criteria, the physician can administer a lethal dose of medication.

Portugal

Portugal's Assembly of the Republic approved a bill legalizing some forms of euthanasia in early 2020. However, the bill was declared unconstitutional due to what the country's Constitutional Court deemed a lack of precision. As of June 2022, efforts were ongoing to create a version of the bill that is clear enough to satisfy all legal concerns and officially legalize euthanasia in Portugal.

Russia

Although euthanasia is banned in Russia, neither the law banning the practice nor any other law indicates any sort of punishment for performing euthanasia.

South Korea

Euthanasia has been legal in South Korea since February 2018. However, patients must be terminally ill with no chance of recovery and must be experiencing deteriorating health.

Spain

A law legalizing active euthanasia in Spain entered into force on 25 June 2021. The lethal dose of medication may be administered by the physician or prescribed to the patient to self-administer. Those requesting euthanasia must has Spanish nationality or legal residence, must suffer from a serious (though not necessarily terminal) and incurable disease, must have complete knowledge or the process and alternatives, must request the procedure twice with fifteen days between the requests, and must give informed consent to the procedure. Voluntary euthanasia for terminally ill patients is supported by 86% of the Spanish population.

Sweden

Passive euthanasia has been legal in Sweden since 2010. Active euthanasia is still prohibited.

Switzerland

Switzerland's laws regarding euthanasia are among the most lenient in the world. Euthanasia is not allowed if the person advocating for doctor-assisted suicide stands to gain anything, such as an inheritance, from the person’s death, but is widely allowed otherwise. The physician administering the lethal medication is not required to diagnose the patient, and there is no age limit. While active euthanasia is prohibited, the physicians can legally supply lethal medications for the patient to self-administer. This permission extends to international patients as well, which has led to a cottage industry of "suicide tourism" in which individuals travel to Switzerland to end their lives.

United Kingdom

Active euthanasia is technically illegal in the UK, despite a 1957 court ruling that a physician who administered a lethal dose of medication in order to relieve a patient's pain should not be considered murder even if the physician knew the medicine could cause the patient's death. Passive euthanasia, however, is legal in some circumstances, as patients are allowed to craft "living wills" that instruct physicians to discontinue medical treatment if that treatment only prolongs life but does not cure the affliction. A 2015 poll found that 82% of people in the UK support "assisted dying" and attempts to officially legalize it are ongoing.

United States

Euthanasia laws in the US vary from state to state. Active euthanasia is prohibited on a national level, but passive euthanasia for patients who are terminally ill is legal in the District of Colombia and a handful of states: California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Montana (by court decision), Oregon, New Jersey, part of New Mexico, Vermont, and Washington. Additionally, some states allow procedures roughly equivalent to passive euthanasia, but with different names. For example, Massachusetts allows patients to refuse life-saving procedures, and Texas allows physicians to discontinue futile life-support measures from terminally ill patients under certain circumstances.

Uruguay

While assisted suicide (and by extension euthanasia) is technically illegal in Uruguay, judges are authorized to pardon physicians who acted out of compassion and at the request of the patient. As such, the "crime" of assisting in suicide appears be one of which no doctor has ever been convicted.

Countries Where Euthanasia is Legal / Where Is Euthanasia Legal? 2023

Note: Both passive and active euthanasia are subject to stringent guidelines even in countries where they are legal. See the body text above for more details.

Countries Where Euthanasia is Legal / Where Is Euthanasia Legal? 2023

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