The Supreme Court of India on Friday, March 9, passed a landmark judgement legalising passive euthanasia in India. A five-member Supreme Court bench comprising of Chief Justice of India Dipak Kumar Misra, Justice AK Sikri, Justice AM Khanwilkar, Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice Ashok Bhushan, allowed an individual to prepare a “living will” that will authorise the withdrawal of life support system if the doctors believe that the individual has reached an irreversible stage in his terminal illness.
Furthermore, the apex court said that it has laid down guidelines on who would execute the ‘living will’ and how permission for passive euthanasia will be granted by a team of medical experts.
With this, India joins the ranks of nations who recognise an individual’s “right to die with dignity”. Here’s a list of nations which recognise euthanasia in its various forms:
In 2002, the Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalise euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide (PAS) under strict guidelines. As per the law, the patient must be suffering from unbearable pain with no prospects of improvement, the request must be made in ‘full consciousness’ and at least one consultation with an independent doctor must be made to confirm the patient’s condition, to grant him/her the permission for assisted suicide.
PAS is legal only in the states of Washington DC, California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. All the states have their criteria based on which their eligibility for PAS is determined. These include– the patient must at least 18 years or older of age, he/she must be diagnosed with a terminal illness that will lead to death within six months and he/she must be ‘capable of making and communicating health care decisions for him/herself”.
Germany legalised physician-assisted suicide (PAS) in 2015. The bill passed in the German parliament allows assisted suicide on an individual basis out of ‘altruistic motives’. However, a person who helps someone commit suicide on ‘business terms’ could end up in prison for up to three years. What constitutes ‘business term’ in assisted suicide remains unclear.
Passive euthanasia is legal in Sweden. As per the Swedish law, patients may request the termination of their treatment knowing the consequences of their decision. However, active euthanasia or PAS are still illegal in the country.
Belgium legalised euthanasia in 2002, becoming the second country in the world to do so after the Netherlands. According to the law, patients wishing to end their lives must be conscious while making their request for euthanasia. They have to be in constant unbearable pain resulting from an accident or incurable illness to do so. In 2014, the country legalised euthanasia for minors and also for patients suffering from mental illness.
Active euthanasia is illegal in Switzerland. Furthermore, assisted-suicide by ‘selfish motives’ is a crime in the country wherein an individual assisting the patient in ending his/her life can be imprisoned for up to five years. However, by omission assisted-suicide by from ‘non-selfish motives’ remains legal.
Luxembourg became the third country to legalise euthanasia and PAS after the Netherland and Belgium in 2008. Under the law, euthanasia or PAS will be allowed to a patient with a terminal condition if he/she repeatedly asks to do and has the consent of a panel of medical experts.
Canada legalised medically-assisted suicide for terminally-ill patients in 2016. According to the Canadian law, a doctor will be allowed to administer end-of-life medication to a patient who is older than 19 years and who suffers from a ‘grievous and irremediable medical condition.’
Victoria is the only state in the continent-nation of Australia which allows assisted dying for terminally-ill patients. According to law, the patient must be more than 18 years of age, lived in the state for at least 12 months and be suffering from a terminal illness with a life expectancy between 6-12 months. He/she must have a ‘sound mind’ and complete two independent medical assessments before being administered the lethal drug.
In 1997, Colombia became the first Latin American nation to legalise assisted suicide. However, euthanasia wasn’t practised in the country until 2015 due to a delay in the approval of guidelines by the government. As per the law, hospitals need to form a medical committee evaluate requests for euthanasia and advise patients and their families. Upon approval, the request must be carried out within 15 days.
Active euthanasia is illegal in Albania. However, passive euthanasia may be allowed in the cases where a patient is unconscious with no hope to live. Under such circumstances, a physician must act on his discretion and withdraw the patient’s life-support system in consultation with the patient’s family members.