Physician-assisted death, originally only legal in a select few countries, has quickly become a trend sweeping the globe. Just a few decades ago, doctors who intentionally killed their patients would earn a nickname like “Dr. Death.” Today, physician-assisted death — by assisted suicide or euthanasia — has become increasingly accepted as a compassionate and dignified way to die.
Laws surrounding physician-assisted death differ in requirements and limitations. There are also differences in terminology used in these laws. Assisted suicide means the doctor prescribes a deadly cocktail of drugs, which the patient takes on their own. Euthanasia means the doctor administers the deadly cocktail that kills the patient. And passive euthanasia means the doctor cannot actively participate in killing a patient but is allowed to withdraw treatment, such as a ventilator or feeding tube.
- India: Assisted suicide is not legal in India, but passive euthanasia is.
- Japan: There are currently no specific laws banning assisted suicide or euthanasia in Japan. However, the situation is largely unclear, and left up to interpretations of homicide and manslaughter laws. Because the law is not clear on the issue, some doctors who have committed euthanasia have been arrested.
Central and South America
- Argentina: Euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal; however, it has been claimed that they are widely practiced regardless of legality.
- Chile: Passive euthanasia is legal in Chile. A new constitution allowing assisted suicide was passed by President Gabriel Boric last year, but it was defeated by voters in a landslide.
- Colombia: Colombia became the first Latin American country to legalize assisted suicide in 2022. Before that, it had been decriminalized and largely unregulated.
- Mexico: Passive euthanasia is legal in certain areas of Mexico: Mexico City, Aguascalientes, and Michoacán. Active euthanasia and assisted suicide remain illegal.
- Peru: Though assisted suicide and euthanasia are illegal in Peru, one woman was able to be euthanized after petitioning the Peruvian Supreme Court.
- Uruguay: Passive euthanasia is legal, though assisted suicide and euthanasia are not.
- Austria: Assisted suicide was legalized in Austria in 2021. The law took effect in 2022, though euthanasia remains illegal.
- Belgium: One of the first countries to legalize assisted suicide, Belgium has become a model of how such laws can so easily be manipulated. In the 20 years since its legalization, over 27,000 people have died (that authorities know of). Children are eligible for euthanasia, as well as people with mental illness or disabilities. Their program is so extreme that it has even been criticized by the United Nations Human Rights Council.
- Denmark: While assisted suicide and active euthanasia are illegal, passive euthanasia is allowed.
- Finland: Passive euthanasia is legal, while assisted suicide and euthanasia are not, though attempts have been made to legalize them.
- France: Assisted suicide and euthanasia are not legal in France; however, French President Emmanuel Macron has shown support for them, and a “citizens’ convention” in December of this year will debate whether or not assisted suicide should be legalized.
- Germany: The top court in Germany overturned a ban on assisted suicide in 2020, with doctors removing a ban on assisted suicide from their code of conduct in 2021. German politicians have since been working to outright legalize it.
- Italy: While assisted suicide is technically illegal, Italy’s Constitutional Court decriminalized assisted suicide under certain conditions (including the approval of local health authorities and an ethics board) in 2021. Last year, a 44-year-old man who became paralyzed after a car crash became the country’s first assisted suicide.
- Luxembourg: Assisted suicide and euthanasia are both legal in Luxembourg. They were legalized in 2009.
- Netherlands: Like Belgium, the Netherlands became one of the first countries to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia in 2002. In 2020, nearly 7,000 people were killed by these methods; over 200 of them were considered to have mental disabilities. It was discovered in 2019 that a quarter of all deaths in the Netherlands are induced, and reasons for euthanasia there have included depression, addiction, autism, and sexual abuse. Doctors who forcibly euthanized a woman as she fought for her life were acquitted of all charges.
- Portugal: Though currently illegal, the Portuguese Parliament has repeatedly tried to legalize assisted suicide. The first two attempts were rejected by either the president or the Constitutional Court. A third bill was passed in December of 2022, and President Marcel Rebelo de Sousa sent it to the Constitutional Court for review.
- Spain: Assisted suicide was legalized in Spain in 2021, and people with a “chronic and incurable” illness qualify — meaning people with disabilities or chronic but not deadly illnesses. If a patient is considered to be incapacitated, a family member or doctor can sign off on the request for them — a situation many have criticized as being rife with potential for abuse.
- Sweden: Passive euthanasia was legalized in 2010.
- Switzerland: Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, though euthanasia is not. However, there are very few limits on assisted suicide there, which has led to suicide tourism, allowing anyone — from healthy foreigners to imprisoned people — to undergo assisted suicide.
- Canada: Canada legalized assisted suicide in 2016, but the nation has since become a cautionary tale. Medical Aid in Dying (MAiD) deaths have skyrocketed, as people report being pressured into dying, even though they were only seeking medical treatment. Others have been approved for MAiD simply due to poverty or disabilities. Canada plans to expand euthanasia to allow it for people with mental illness, and is the world leader in organ donation following assisted suicide. There is even a movement for infants with “grave malformations” to be eligible for euthanasia.
- United States: Assisted suicide is legal in 10 states, as well as the District of Columbia. It has been legalized in California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Oregon.
- Australia: Assisted suicide in Australia is not considered a federal issue; instead, individual states can make their own laws. It has been legalized in Victoria, Western Australia, Tasmania, Queensland, South Australia, and New South Wales, with only the Northern Territory as an outlier. The legislation in South Australia was passed in 2021, and will take effect on January 31, 2023; New South Wales’ legislation was passed in 2022, and will take effect on November 28, 2023.
- New Zealand: Assisted suicide was legalized in November of 2021, and New Zealand recorded 143 assisted suicide deaths by July 2022. Disturbing claims were also made that doctors were being paid to euthanize patients with COVID-19.
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