Euthanasia, or assisted suicide, is a practice in which a doctor prescribes a lethal amount of medication to help someone who has chosen to die. People who are terminally ill and experiencing much pain may want to die by euthanasia rather than prolong a painful illness that will kill them.
Euthanasia is highly controversial and illegal in many countries. Some critics argue that God gives all life, and only God has the right to take it. Others fear that if euthanasia becomes legal, then doctors may begin euthanizing patients against their will. Those who feel this way sometimes point to Nazi Germany, which promoted its genocide of Jews, gypsies, disabled people, and political dissidents as euthanasia.
In many countries, euthanasia is illegal and can result in a murder conviction. However, there are some countries in which it is legal under stringent conditions. Switzerland has perhaps the least-regulated laws dealing with euthanasia, as a diagnosis is not required by the physician administering the lethal medication, and there is no age limit. Nevertheless, 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.
Euthanasia is legal in Belgium for someone who is in unbearable suffering and will not recover. If that person is not terminally ill, then a one-month waiting period is required. There is no age regulation for those requesting euthanasia, but for a child to be considered, he or she must have a terminal illness.
In the Netherlands, someone who is in chronic pain and will not recover can request euthanasia, even if he or she is not terminally ill. However, the physician involved must consult with at least one independent physician to ensure that the patient meets the criteria for euthanasia. Children as young as 12 can request euthanasia, but they must have parental permission.
Luxembourg, Canada, Australia, and Colombia allow euthanasia for adults who are in unbearable suffering and who will die from their condition. In Australia, a doctor cannot bring up the prospect of euthanasia; the patient must explicitly request it – three times.
There are a few states in the United States in which euthanasia is now legal for patients who are terminally ill. In France, euthanasia is not permitted, but patients can request to be heavily sedated until they die.
Euthanasia is not a common practice and is the last resort for those who request it. Very few people die each year by euthanasia.