Good Life, Good Death
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Euthanasia Progress In The 20th and 21st Century
Various forms of medically assisted dying and/or assisted suicide for the terminally or hopelessly ill competent adult have been approved by 2010 in the following ten states and nations. Each has its own rules and guidelines. All but Switzerland forbid foreigners coming for this type of help to die.
• Switzerland (1940)
Also in 2010 England & Wales announced first prosecutorial policy statement about who will, or will not, risk criminal charges when assisting a suicide.
Visit this page for information on assisted suicide laws in the United States including Oregon, Washington, and other U.S. states.
The law in Canada is almost the same as in England -- it is a crime to assist a suicide, punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment. The offence is rarely prosecuted and a 2002 significant case brought against Evelyn Martens in BC resulted in acquittal.
On April 21, 2010, the Canadian House of Commons rejected a Bloc Québécois MP’s legislation to permit assisted suicide in Canada under strict conditions. Bill C-384 was defeated on second reading by a 228-59 margin.
The bill would have allowed doctors to avoid murder and manslaughter charges for helping terminally ill people or those in severe chronic pain to die. The bill stipulated that a physician could help someone to "die with dignity" provided nine conditions were met, including that the person was 18 or older, suffered from a terminal illness or unrelenting physical or mental pain, had made two written requests to die at least 10 days apart, and had their diagnosis confirmed by a second doctor.
Francine Lalonde, an east Montreal member of Parliament, introduced the measure. It was supported by most of her caucus and a sprinkling of MPs from the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP, because party leaders allowed a free vote. Lalonde — who has faced death during recent struggles with cancer — said it's time to allow terminally ill people in intolerable pain to die gently in a manner of their own choosing. But MPs were concerned it would take the country down a "slippery slope" in which severely disabled or dying people could be euthanized without their consent.
Canada court case history details (through May 2007) at this site: http://www.righttodie.ca/assistedsuicides-canada.html
In Mexico, on April 22, 2008, the Senate voted 70-0 in favour of legalizing passive euthanasia. This concept allows doctors to withdraw life-sustaining medication from patients, but not to, for instance, administer poisons. (Assisted suicide or active euthanasia occurs when an individual who is not physically capable of ending his or her own life requests the help of a physician to do so.)
The Mexican bill legalizes passive euthanasia -- the disconnection of life support equipment -- when the patient is in palliative care and has been given less than six months to live. Doctors have to act with consent from the patient or the patient’s family. The regulation stipulates that the patient will have the option of "voluntarily requesting the suspension of healing treatment and selecting integral care to control pain."
Central & South America
Colombia's Constitutional Court in 1997 approved medical voluntary euthanasia but its parliament has never ratified it. Nowadays doctors there frequently do -- discreetly -- help suffering terminal people to die at their request.
In Uruguay it seems a person must appear in court, yet Article 27 of the Penal Code (effective 1934) says: "The judges are authorized to forego punishment of a person whose previous life has been honorable where he commits a homicide motivated by compassion, induced by repeated requests of the victim." As far as is known, there have been no judicial sentences for mercy killing in Uruguay.
In England and Wales there is a possibility of up to 14 years imprisonment for anybody assisting a suicide. Oddly, suicide itself is not a crime. The first prosecutorial policy statement about who will, or will not, risk criminal charges when assisting a suicide, was announced by England & Wales in 2010. Like France, there are laws banning a publication if it leads to a suicide or assisted suicide. But 'Final Exit' can be seen in bookstores in both countries.
Suicide has never been illegal under Scotland law. There is no Scots authority of whether it is criminal to help another to commit suicide, and this has never been tested in court.
The killing of another at his own request is murder, as the consent of the victim is irrelevant in such a case. A person who assists another to take their own life, whether by giving advice or by the provision of the means of committing suicide, might be criminally liable on a number of other grounds such as: recklessly endangering human life, culpable homicide (recklessly giving advice or providing the means, followed by the death of the victim), or wicked recklessness.
While it is correct that Sweden has no law specifically proscribing assisted suicide, the prosecutors might charge an assister with manslaughter - and do. In 1979 the Swedish right-to-die leader Berit Hedeby went to prison for a year for helping a man with MS to die.
Neighbouring Norway has criminal sanctions against assisted suicide by using the charge "accessory to murder". In cases where consent was given and the reasons compassionate, the courts pass lighter sentences. A recent law commission voted down de-criminalizing assisted suicide by a 5-2 vote.
A retired Norwegian physician, Christian Sandsdalen, was found guilty of wilful murder in 2000. He admitted giving an overdose of morphine to a woman chronically ill after 20 years with MS who begged for his help. It cost him his medical license but he was not sent to prison. He appealed the case right up to the Supreme Court and lost every time. Dr. Sandsdalen died a year ago at 82 and, curiously, his funeral was packed with Norway's dignitaries.
Denmark has no laws permitting assisted suicide, despite reports that it does.
Finland has nothing in its criminal code about assisted suicide. Sometimes an assister will inform the law enforcement authorities of him or herself of having aided someone in dying, and provided the action was justified, nothing more happens. Mostly it takes place among friends, who act discreetly. If Finnish doctors were known to practice assisted suicide or euthanasia, the situation might change, although there is no case history.
Germany has had no penalty for the action since 1751, although it rarely happens there due to the hangover taboo caused by Nazi mass murders, plus powerful, contemporary, church influences. Direct killing by euthanasia is a crime. In 2000 a German appeal court cleared a Swiss clergyman of assisted suicide because there was no such offence, but convicted him of bringing the drugs into the country. There was no imprisonment.
France does not have a specific law banning assisted suicide, but such a case could be prosecuted under 223-6 of the Penal Code for failure to assist a person in danger. Convictions are rare and punishments minor. France bans all publications that advise on suicide - 'Final Exit' has been banned since 1991 but few nowadays take any notice of the order.
In Italy the action is legally forbidden.
Belgium / The Netherlands / Switzerland
Four European countries today openly, legally, authorize assisted dying of terminal patients at their request:
Two doctors must be involved in Belgium, and the Netherlands, plus a psychologist if there are doubts about the patient's competency. But that is not stipulated in Switzerland, although at least a doctor usually is because the right-to-die societies insist on medical certification of terminality before assisting.
Belgium and the Netherlands permit voluntary euthanasia, but Switzerland bans death by injection, and all have 'residents only' rules, except Switzerland which alone does not bar foreigners provided they are critically, terminally ill. In 2001 the Swiss National Council confirmed the assisted suicide law but kept the prohibition of euthanasia.
All three right-to-die organizations in Switzerland help terminally ill people to die by providing counselling and lethal drugs. Police are always informed. But only one group, DIGNITAS, in Zurich, will accept foreigners who are either terminal, or severely mentally ill, or clinically depressed beyond treatment. (Note: Both Dutch and Belgian euthanasia laws have caveats permitting assisted suicide for the mentally ill in rare and incurable cases.)
Asia & Pacific
Japan has medical voluntary euthanasia approved by a high court in 1962 in the Yamagouchi case, but instances are extremely rare, seemingly because of complicated taboos on suicide, dying and death in that country.
New Zealand forbids assistance under 179 of the New Zealand Crimes Act, 1961, but cases are rare and the penalties lenient.
The Northern Territory of Australia had voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide for nine months until the Federal Parliament repealed the law in 1997. Only four people were able to use it. Other states have attempted to change the law, so far unsuccessfully.