The Supreme Court verdict, authorising the withdrawal of life-support system for terminally ill patients, stems from a petition filed by an NGO, which sought the enactment of the law on the lines of Patient Autonomy and Self-determination Act in the USA. As India legalises the right to die with dignity, here’s a look at other countries where passive euthanasia is already in practice.
According to reports, roughly 300 terminally ill Americans were prescribed lethal medications in 2013, and around 230 people died as a result of taking them. Some patients choose not to take the medication. In recent years, the ‘aid in dying’ movement has made incremental gains, but the issue remains controversial.
In April 2002, the Netherlands became the first country to legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide. It imposed a strict set of conditions: the patient must be suffering unbearable pain, their illness must be incurable, and the demand must be made in “full consciousness” by the patient. In 2010, 3,136 people were given a lethal cocktail under medical supervision.
Belgium became the second country in the world to pass a law in 2002 to legalise euthanasia. The law mentions doctors can help patients to end their lives when they freely express a wish to die after suffering unbearable pain. Patients can also receive euthanasia if they have clearly stated it before entering a coma or similar vegetative state. Interestingly, Belgium became the first country to legalise euthanasia for children in 2014. There is no age limit for minors seeking a lethal injection but there are strict norms for it.
Doctors are allowed to prescribe lethal doses of medicine to terminally ill patients in five US states. Euthanasia, however, is illegal. In recent years, the “aid in dying” movement has made incremental gains, but the issue remains controversial.
Oregon was the first US state to legalise assisted suicide. The law took effect in 1997 and allows for terminally ill, mentally competent patients with less than six months to live to request a prescription for life-ending medication. More than a decade later, Washington state approved a measure that was modelled on Oregon’s law. And last year, the Vermont legislature passed a similar law. Court decisions rendered the practice legal in Montana and, most recently, in New Mexico.
Germany and Switzerland:
In German-speaking countries, the term “euthanasia” is generally avoided because of its association with the eugenicist policies of the Nazi era. The law, therefore, tends to distinguish between assisted suicide.
In Germany and Switzerland, active assisted suicide – ie a doctor prescribing and handing over a lethal drug – is illegal. But the German and Swiss law does allow assisted suicide within certain circumstances. In Germany, assisted suicide is legal as long as the lethal drug is taken without any help, such as someone guiding or supporting the patient’s hand. In Switzerland, the law is more relaxed: it allows assisted suicide as long as there are no “self-seeking motives” involved. Switzerland has tolerated the creation of organisations such as Dignitas and Exit, which provide assisted dying services for a fee.