The Supreme Court’s judgement on passive euthanasia has brought a breakthrough in the debate on whether the right to die can be made a fundamental right. Whether or not to end the suffering of a terminally ill or vegetating human being’s life has been an important, yet sensitive topic throughout the world. As the Indian Supreme Court has today recognised the “living will” of terminally-ill patients, allowing for passive euthanasia, here’s a look at how similar laws and their implementation around the world compare.
The Netherlands is the first country to allow euthanasia in 2002. The bill was labelled ‘Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide Act’ and it requires that the terminally-ill patient feels unbearable pain. They must have persistently requested for euthanasia without anyone’s influence. A second independent doctor must be consulted before the treatment, which must take place in a “medically appropriate fashion” in the doctor’s presence.
Unfortunately, a recent report from the New England Journal of Medicine shows that the country’s liberal euthanasia law is being exploited, with even non-terminally ill patients requesting for euthanasia.
Belgium legalised euthanasia in 2002, becoming the second country to do so. Notably, in December 2013, the country extended the law to terminally ill children. The law states that the child must be fully conscious and must understand the meaning of euthanasia. They must be terminally ill and in great pain. The medical team and parents should approve and a psychologist must assess the patient’s maturity for decision-making.
Although France has not legalised Euthanasia, it took the country many years of debate to finally allow doctors to sedate patients until death in January 2016. The law allows doctors to stop “life-sustaining treatments” and provide sedatives and painkillers if necessary. For patients who are unable to express their will, the family may request the doctor for this process. The country’s previous “Leonetti law” in 2005 discussed the idea of a patient’s right to be “left to die.”
Washington DC, California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington are the American states that allow Euthanasia.
The discussion in each state revolved around a landmark case. The case of ‘Karen Ann Quinlan’ is a prominent exemplary case. She was in a vegetative state for nine years. Oregon was the first state to legalise passive euthanasia in 1994, calling it the ‘Death with Dignity Act’. The law declared that the patient must initiate the request and the illness should be one that would kill the patient within six months.
The word ‘Euthanasia’ in Germany is a sensitive one because of the country’s history with the Nazis (The Nazis were thought to have killed about 200,000 people with disabilities). The country calls it “active assisted suicide”, and allows euthanasia provided that the lethal drug is consumed by the patient themselves. In a recent development in 2015, the government made commercial euthanasia illegal, criminalising organisations that helped with euthanasia in exchange for money.
In November 2017, the MPs of the state Parliament in Victoria voted to give patients the right to request a lethal dosage. The ‘Voluntary Assisted Dying’ bill will go through an implementation period before it comes into effect in June 2019. The bill states that the patient must be over the age of 18 and of sound mind, and should have lived in Victoria for at least 12 months. Their suffering must be such that they “cannot be relieved in a manner the person deems tolerable”.
In December 2017, Italian lawmakers passed a bill allowing adults to request to terminate their medical care with an agreement from the doctor. The bill had been pending for a period of 30 years and faced a lot of resistance from Catholic legislators. The passing of the law was made possible after Pope Francis, in November 2017, spoke in support of it, suggesting that stopping treatment of terminally ill patients is morally justifiable in some cases.