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Euthanasia & assisted suicide around the world


(other than in the Netherlands and Belgium)

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AUSTRALIA (not current)

The Northern Territory of Australia is one place in the world where euthanasia (in the senses of active administration of lethal drugs by a doctor) has ever been legal. The Northern Territory Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995 was passed and also affirmed by a Supreme Court of the Northern Territory Ruling; on March 23rd 1997 it was effectively overturned by the Australian Senate. The historic conscience vote - 38 to 34 - terminated the world's first system of legalised euthanasia, just six months after a Darwin resident, Mr Bob Dent, became the first person to die under the law.

The Bill was not the work of a euthanasia society. A small right-to-die group subsequently formed in the Territory, however, just as there are established v.e. societies in other states.

Amongst continuing battles over the new law, the Darwin man suffering from prostate cancer became the first (publicly acknowledged) person to die with Dr Nitschke's "death machine." He passed away on Sunday 22nd September 1996.


In America, a ruling of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal, meant that assisted suicide (in the sense of a doctor prescribing lethal drugs for self-administration by a patient) was no longer unconstitutional in the western states. (A similar decision was reached shortly afterwards by the east coast's 2nd Circuit.)

The ruling was a result of an action brought in Washington by the small right-to-die group Compasssion In Dying which, together with a number of terminally ill individuals, challenged the constitutionality of Washington's law against assisted suicide.

The 9th Circuit also reversed an earlier ruling which had declared Oregon's assisted suicide law The Death With Dignity Act (Measure 16) unconstitutional.
Note: a stay was put on the 9th and 2nd Circuit decisions on 6th May 1996. The legislature decided to put Measure 16 back to the voters again and it once more became law in October 1997. The first assisted deaths under the new law occurred in 1998. New Federal laws, however, threaten to make the Oregon measure unworkable.

Earleir that year, the Supreme Court of America decided (June 1997) that state laws against assisted suicide are not, as the 9th Circuit had thought, unconstitutional. .

Dr Kevorkian continued to assist in suicides in the state of Michigan until finally convicted and is now in prison.

The USA currently has four States that allow physician assisted suicide (provision of lethal drugs for self-administration). Applications are allowed from people resident in those states only.

Other countries

Colombia has an apparent ruling to 'legalise' voluntary euthanasia. Colombia's Constitutional Court in June 1997 reaffirmed its May ruling (in which 6 judges were in favour and three voted against) that allowed euthanasia for terminally ill patients who request it. Congress still has power to regulate the law, but not to object to it.

Switzerland allows non-physician aid-in-dying. A physician can prescribe lethal medications but a lay-assistant accompanies the person self-administrating the drugs. Switzerland remains the only country accepting assisted suicide applications from foreigners, but the requirements are strict. The main organization to facilitate assisted suicide for non-Swiss persons is called Dignitas. Fees can be considerable.

Luxembourg has legal provisions similar to the Netherlands.

Reports show that euthanasia and assisted suicide is practiced illegally in many countries. Russell Ogden reported case studies in Canada of assisted suicides with buddies helping terminally ill AIDS patients. A British Medical Journal Report showed that many UK doctors who had been faced with a euthanasia has acceded to the request. See: A-Z Index and Quotes database

Some common fallacies

(Note: "Assisting" suicide in the sense of general provision of information on how to commit suicide is probably not illegal in most countries, especially if it is not directly and knowingly given to a person about to commit suicide. "Assisting" in the sense of being present varies from area to area in whether it is against the law.)
"Assisting" in the sense of directly providing the means (as did Dr Kevorkian, or as provided by Oregon's Death With Dignity Act) is what is generally so controversial:
Assisting suicide is not legal in Scotland. Suicide has never been a criminal offence (unlike in England), but assisting a suicide would be prosecuted under laws such as the law against culpable homicide.

Note: Serious students wishing to do original research on the legal situation around the world are recommended to write to the relevant Law Commissions etc, not to the euthanasia societies, all of whom, it must be emphasized, are not generally an authority on the law. Similar remarks apply to laws on living wills. 
For a university-authored coverage of the legal situation around the world (as per the end of 1995) see: Death, Dying and the Law. For a similar coverage of living wills, see "Advance Directives/Living Wills" in: Contemporary Issues in Law, Medicine and Ethics.

Please check the legal section in the right-hand column of our Blog for up-to-date information

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