Assisted suicide

Assisted suicide is suicide undertaken with the aid of another person.[1] The term refers to physician-assisted suicide (PAS), which is suicide that is assisted by a physician or other healthcare provider. Once it is determined that the person's situation qualifies under the assisted suicide laws for that place, the physician's assistance is usually limited to writing a prescription for a lethal dose of drugs.

In many jurisdictions, helping a person die by suicide is a crime.[2] People who support legalizing assisted suicide want the people who assist in a voluntary suicide to be exempt from criminal prosecution for manslaughter or similar crimes. Assisted suicide is legal in some countries, under certain circumstances, including Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Colombia, Switzerland, and parts of the United States and Australia (Victoria).[3] In most of those countries, to qualify for legal assistance, people who want to use the assisted-suicide model to die must meet certain criteria, including having a terminal illness, proving they are of sound mind, voluntarily and repeatedly expressing their wish to die, and taking a specified, lethal dose of drugs themselves.

Terminology

Secobarbital DOJ
Secobarbital is one of the most commonly prescribed drugs for physician assisted suicide in the United States.[4]

Suicide is the act of killing oneself.

Assisted suicide includes anyone materially helping another person die by suicide, such as providing tools or equipment.

Physician-assisted suicide involves a physician (doctor) "knowingly and intentionally providing a person with the knowledge or means or both required to commit suicide, including counseling about lethal doses of drugs, prescribing such lethal doses or supplying the drugs".[5]

Euthanasia, sometimes referred to as mercy killing, is killing a person, with or without consent, to stop the person from suffering further. Killing a suffering person with consent is called voluntary euthanasia. Killing the person when they are unable to provide consent is called non-voluntary euthanasia. Killing a person who does not want to die, or who is capable of giving consent but whose consent has not been solicited, is the crime of involuntary euthanasia.

Right to die is the belief that people have a right to die, either through various forms of suicide, euthanasia, or refusing life-saving medical treatment.

Assisted dying vs assisted suicide

Some advocates for assisted suicide strongly oppose the use of "assisted suicide" and "suicide" when referring to physician assisted suicide, and prefer the phrase "assisted dying". The motivation for this is to distance the debate from the suicides commonly performed by those not terminally ill and not eligible for assistance where it is legal. They feel those cases have negatively impacted the word "suicide" to the point that it bears no relation to the situation where someone who is suffering irremediably seeks a peaceful death.[6][7]

Support

Arguments for assisted suicide

Arguments in support of assisted suicide include respect for patient autonomy, equal treatment of terminally ill patients on and off life support, compassion, personal liberty, and transparency.[8] When death is imminent (half a year or less) patients can choose to have assisted death as a medical option to shorten what the person perceives to be an unbearable dying process. Pain is mostly not reported as the primary motivation for seeking physician assisted suicide in the United States;[9] the three most frequently mentioned end‐of‐life concerns reported by Oregon residents who took advantage of the Death With Dignity Act in 2015 were: decreasing ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable (96.2%), loss of autonomy (92.4%), and loss of dignity (78.4%).[10]

Oregon statistics

A study of hospice nurses and social workers in Oregon reported that symptoms of pain, depression, anxiety, extreme air hunger and fear of the process of dying were more pronounced among hospice patients who did not request a lethal prescription for barbiturates, the drug used for physician assisted death.[11]

A Journal of Palliative Medicine report on patterns of hospice use noted that Oregon was in both the highest quartile of hospice use and the lowest quartile of potentially concerning patterns of hospice use. A similar trend was found in Vermont, where AiD was authorized in 2013.[12]

In Oregon, in hospital death rates are at the lowest in the nation, at home death rates are at the highest in the nation, and violent suicide among hospice patients has been reduced significantly.[12]

In February 2016, Oregon released a report on their 2015 numbers. During 2015, there were 218 people in the state who were approved and received the lethal drugs to end their own life. Of that 218, 132 terminally ill patients ultimately made the decision to ingest drugs, resulting in their death. According to the state of Oregon Public Health Division's survey, the majority of the participants, 78%, were 65 years of age or older and predominately Caucasian, 93.1%. 72% of the terminally ill patients who opted for ending their own lives had been diagnosed with some form of cancer. In the state of Oregon's 2015 survey, they asked the terminally ill who were participating in medical aid in dying, what their biggest end-of-life concerns were: 96.2% of those people mentioned the loss of the ability to participate in activities that once made them enjoy life, 92.4% mentioned the loss of autonomy, or their independence of their own thoughts or actions, and 75.4% stated loss of their dignity.[13]

Washington State statistics

An increasing trend in deaths caused from ingesting lethal doses of medications prescribed by physicians was also noted in Washington: from 64 deaths in 2009 to 202 deaths in 2015.[14] Among the deceased, 72% had terminal cancer and 8% had neurodegenerative diseases (including ALS).[14]

U.S. polls

Polls conducted by Gallup dating back to 1947 positing the question, "When a person has a disease that cannot be cured, do you think doctors should be allowed to end the patient's life by some painless means if the patient and his family request it?" show support for the practice increasing from 37% in 1947 to a plateau of approximately 75% lasting from approximately 1990 to 2005. When the polling question was modified as such so the question posits "severe pain" as opposed to an incurable disease, "legalization" as opposed to generally allowing doctors, and "patient suicide" rather than physician-administered euthanasia, public support was substantially lower, by approximately 10% to 15%.[9]

A poll conducted by National Journal and Regence Foundation found that both Oregonians and Washingtonians were more familiar with the terminology "end-of-life care" than the rest of the country and residents of both states are slightly more aware of the terms palliative and hospice care.[15]

A survey from the Journal of Palliative Medicine found that family caregivers of patients who chose assisted death were more likely to find positive meaning in caring for a patient and were more prepared for accepting a patient's death than the family caregivers of patients who didn't request assisted death.[16]

Safeguards

Many current assisted death/assisted suicide laws contain provisions that are intended to provide oversight and investigative processes to prevent abuse.

This includes eligibility and qualification processes, mandatory state reporting by the medical team, and medical board oversight. In Oregon and other states, two doctors and two witnesses must assert that a person's request for a lethal prescription wasn't coerced or under undue influence.

These safeguards include proving one's residency and eligibility. The patient must meet with two physicians and they must confirm the diagnoses before one can continue; in some cases, they do include a psychiatric evaluation as well to determine whether or not the patient is making this decision on their own. The next steps are two oral requests, a waiting period of a minimum of 15 days before making your next request. A written request which must be witnessed by two different people, one of which cannot be a family member, and then another waiting period by your doctor in which they either say you're eligible for the drugs or not ("Death with Dignity").

The debate about whether these safeguards work is debated between opponents and proponents.

Religious Stances

Unitarian Universalism

According to a 1988 General Resolution, "Unitarian Universalists advocate the right to self-determination in dying, and the release from civil or criminal penalties of those who, under proper safeguards, act to honor the right of terminally ill patients to select the time of their own deaths".[17]

Support organizations

Listed below are some major organizations that support medical aid in dying:

Compassion and Choices

Compassion and Choices is a nonprofit organization in support of end of life care and claims to be the biggest nonprofit in the United States to do so. Created over 30 years ago the group provides patients with legal assistance as well as advice and information about medical aid in dying.[18]

Death with Dignity National Center

The Death with Dignity National Center is a nonprofit organization that has been in existence since 1993. This organization is most notably associated with the original writing and continued advocating of the Oregon Death with Dignity Law that was enacted on October 27, 1997.[19] Oregon, Washington, and Vermont laws state that mentally competent, and terminally ill adult patients can determine if they want to receive prescription medication so they can die in a humane and peaceful way.[20]

Dignitas (Switzerland)

Dignitas helps Swiss nationals and foreigners to die by providing advice and lethal drugs. The legal pre-requisites are that a person must have either a terminal illness, an unendurable incapacitating disability or unbearable and uncontrollable pain.[21] However, in practice they also accept mentally ill patients[22] or those without a medical diagnosis. 25% of people in Switzerland who use assisted suicide do not have a terminal illness but are "tired of life",[23] for example the retired British art teacher who killed herself on 27 March 2014 "in part because she had become fed up with the modern world of emails, TVs, computers and supermarket ready meals".[24]

Dignity in Dying

Dignity in Dying Is a United Kingdom-based campaign group for the right to die, supporting members with advice and information relating to palliative care, and other end of life options. The organization frequently campaigns for the right of adults to make choices about their end of life options. The group was founded in 1935 and has since then been one of the bigger organizations to openly support assisted suicide in the UK. Their main goal is for the choice to choose how they die and to have a completely free choice to their end of life options.[25]

Disabled Activists for Dignity in Dying

DADID[26] is a campaign group created by Dignity in Dying for disabled people who share the group's perspective on assisted death in the UK. A Yougov poll undertaken by the National Secular Society,[27] which supports assisted death, suggested that 80% of disabled persons support a change in the law, such as Lord Falconer's Bill[28] to allow some form of assisted suicide. A 2015 Populus poll showed that 86% of disabled people support the introduction of assisted dying law in the UK.[29]

Exit

Exit is a Scottish organization that supports a permissive model of right-to-die legislation[30] based on published research and recommendations from Glasgow University using an 'exceptions to the rule' (against euthanasia) format to facilitate transparency and open safeguards.[31] Exit published the world's first guide on medical aid in dying, called How to Die With Dignity (1980); followed by Departing Drugs (1993), and the Five Last Acts series.[32][33] Exit also publishes a Blog with broad-ranging analysis of assisted-suicide related issues.[34]

Exit International

Exit International is the publisher of the assisted dying guidebook The Peaceful Pill Handbook by Dr. Philip Nitschke and Dr. Fiona Stewart.[35] Founded in 2006 by Nitschke and based in Bellingham, Washington,[36] Exit International is a pro-choice assisted dying organization with an online membership of around 18,000 internationally. The organization holds meetings and workshops in the US, Canada, the UK and Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.

Final Exit Network

Final Exit Network, Inc. is a nonprofit organization founded in 2004 for the purpose of serving as a resource to individuals seeking information and emotional support in dying medically as a means to end suffering from chronically painful—though not necessarily terminal—illness.

Humanists UK

Humanists UK is a British charity that promotes humanism. They support the right of those who are suffering incurably to have access to an assisted death,[37] and they have supported various court cases to this effect.[38] In contrast to Dignity in Dying, they do not think assisted dying should only be the right of the terminally ill.

My Death My Decision

My Death My Decision is a British organisation that believes those who suffer incurably and have a quality of life below which is acceptable to them should have access to an assisted death.[39] Similar to Humanists UK, they do not think assisted dying should only be the right of the terminally ill.

World Federation of Right to Die Societies

The World Federation of Right to Die Societies was founded in 1980 and encompasses 38 right-to-die organizations in 23 different countries.[40]

Opposition

Medical ethics

Code of Ethics

The most current version of the American Medical Association's Code of Ethics states that physician-assisted suicide is prohibited. It prohibits physician-assisted suicide because it is “fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer” and because it would be “difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks”. [41]

Hippocratic Oath

Some doctors[42] remind that physician-assisted suicide is contrary to the Hippocratic Oath, which is the oath historically taken by physicians. It states "I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel".[43][44] The original oath however has been modified many times and, contrary to popular belief, is not required by most modern medical schools.[45] There are also procedures forbidden by the Hippocratic Oath which are in common practice today, such as abortion.[46]

The Declaration of Geneva

The Declaration of Geneva is a revision of the Hippocratic Oath, first drafted in 1948 by the World Medical Association in response to forced euthanasia, eugenics and other medical crimes performed in Nazi Germany. It contains, "I will maintain the utmost respect for human life."[47]

The International Code of Medical Ethics

The International Code of Medical Ethics, last revised in 2006, includes "A physician shall always bear in mind the obligation to respect human life" in the section "Duties of physicians to patients".[48]

The Statement of Marbella

The Statement of Marbella was adopted by the 44th World Medical Assembly in Marbella, Spain, in 1992. It provides that "physician-assisted suicide, like euthanasia, is unethical and must be condemned by the medical profession."[49]

Opposition because of expansion to people with chronic disorders and disabilities

A concern present among health care professionals who are opposed to PAS, are the detrimental effects that the procedure can have with regard to vulnerable populations. This argument is known as the "slippery slope".[50] This argument encompasses the apprehension that once PAS is initiated for the terminally ill it will progress to other vulnerable communities, namely the disabled, and may begin to be used by those who feel less worthy based on their demographic or socioeconomic status. In addition, vulnerable populations are more at risk of untimely deaths because, "patients might be subjected to PAS without their genuine consent".[51]

Religious stances

Catholicism

The Roman Catholic Church acknowledges the fact that moral decisions regarding a person's life must be made according to one's own conscience and faith.[52] Catholic tradition has said that one's concern for the suffering of another is not a sufficient reason to decide whether it is appropriate to act upon euthanasia. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "God is the creator and author of all life." In this belief system God created human life, therefore God is the judge when to end life.[52] From the Roman Catholic Church's perspective, deliberately ending one's life or the life of another is morally wrong and defies the Catholic doctrine. Furthermore, ending one's life deprives that person and his or her loved ones of the time left in life and causes enormous grief and sorrow for those left behind.[53]

Pope Francis[54] is the current dominant figure of the Catholic Church. He affirms that death is a glorious event and should not be decided for by anyone other than God. Pope Francis insinuates that defending life means defending its sacredness.[55] The Roman Catholic Church teaches its followers that the act of euthanasia is unacceptable because it is perceived as a sin, as it goes against the Ten Commandments, "Thou shalt not kill. (You shall not kill)" As implied by the fifth commandment, the act of assisted suicide contradicts the dignity of human life as well as the respect one has for God.[56]

The Roman Catholic Church also recognizes the story of the Good Samaritan. It uses the story to call earnestly upon the Good Samaritan's actions and his love for his neighbor. In this tradition, the act of assisted suicide negates the respect and love we should have for our neighbors, as it mistakenly places the love God has for his followers in the hands of physicians.

As an alternative to the physician-assisted suicide and in order to alleviate pain, the Catholic Church proposes that terminally ill patients focus on religion and making peace with the Creator while receiving the love and mercy of their families and caregivers.[57] Additionally, the Roman Catholic Church recommends that terminally ill patients should receive palliative care, which deals with physical pain while treating psychological and spiritual suffering as well, instead of physician-assisted suicide.[58]

Judaism

While preservation of life is one of the greatest values in Judaism, there are rare instances of suicide and assisted suicide appearing in the Bible and Rabbinic literature.[59] The medieval authorities debate the legitimacy of those measures and in what limited circumstances they might apply. The conclusion of the majority of later rabbinic authorities, and accepted normative practice within Judaism, is that suicide and assisted suicide can not be sanctioned even for a terminal patient in intractable pain.[60]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is against euthanasia. Anyone who takes part in euthanasia, including "assisted suicide", is regarded as having violated the commandments of God.[61] However the Church recognizes that when a person is in the final stages of terminal illness there may be difficult decisions to be taken. The Church states that 'When dying becomes inevitable, death should be looked upon as a blessing and a purposeful part of an eternal existence. Members should not feel obligated to extend mortal life by means that are unreasonable.[62]

Organizations opposed to assisted suicide

Listed below are organizations opposed to medical aid in dying:

Neutrality

There have been calls for organisations representing medical professionals to take a neutral stance on assisted dying, rather than a position of opposition. The reasoning is that this would better reflect the views of medical professionals and that of wider society, and prevent those bodies from exerting undue influence over the debate.[79][80][81]

The UK Royal College of Nursing voted in July 2009 to move to a neutral position on assisted dying.[82]

The California Medical Association dropped its long-standing opposition in 2015 during the debate over whether an assisted dying bill should be introduced there, prompted in part by cancer sufferer Brittany Maynard.[83] The California End of Life Option Act was signed into law later that year.

In December 2017, the Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS) voted to repeal their opposition to physician-assisted suicide and adopt a position of neutrality.[84]

In October 2018, the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) voted to adopt a position of neutrality from one of opposition. This is contrary to the position taken by the American Medical Association (AMA), who oppose it.[85]

In January 2019 the British Royal College of Physicians announced it would adopt a position of neutrality until two-thirds of its members thinks it should either support or oppose the legalisation of assisted dying.[86]

Attitudes of physicians and healthcare professionals

It is widely acknowledged that physicians must play some role in the process of assisted suicide and euthanasia (as evident in the name "physician-assisted suicide"), often putting them at the forefront of the issue. Decades of opinion research shows that physicians in the US and several European countries are less supportive of legalization of PAS than the general public.[87] In the US, although "about two-thirds of the American public since the 1970s" have supported legalization, surveys of physicians "rarely show as much as half supporting a move".[87] However, physician and other healthcare professional opinions vary widely on the issue of assisted suicide, as shown in the following tables.

Study Population Willing to Assist PAS Not Willing to Assist PAS
Canadian Medical Association, 2011[88] Canadian Medical Association (n=2,125) 16%
 
44%
 
Cohen, 1994 (NEJM)[89] Washington state doctors (n=938) 40%
 
49%
 
Lee, 1996 (NEJM)[90] Oregon state doctors (n=2,761) 46%
 
31%
 
Study Population In favor of PAS being legal Not in favor of PAS being legal
Medscape Ethics Report, 2014[91] U.S.-based doctors 54%
 
31%
 
Seale, 2009[87] United Kingdom physicians (n=3,733) 35%
 
62.2%
 
Cohen, 1994 (NEJM)[89] Washington state doctors (n=938) 53%
 
39%
 

Attitudes toward PAS vary by health profession as well; an extensive survey of 3733 medical physicians was sponsored by the National Council for Palliative Care, Age Concern, Help the Hospices, Macmillan Cancer Support, the Motor Neurone Disease Association, the MS Society and Sue Ryder Care showed that opposition to euthanasia and PAS was highest among Palliative Care and Care of the Elderly specialists, with more than 90% of palliative care specialists against a change in the law.[87]

In a 1997 study by Glasgow University's Institute of Law & Ethics in Medicine found pharmacists (72%) and anaesthetists (56%) to be generally in favor of legalizing PAS. Pharmacists were twice as likely as medical GPs to endorse the view that "if a patient has decided to end their own life then doctors should be allowed in law to assist".[92] A report published in January 2017 by NPR suggests that the thoroughness of protections that allow physicians to refrain from participating in the municipalities that legalized assisted suicide within the United States presently creates a lack of access by those who would otherwise be eligible for the practice.[93]

A poll in the United Kingdom showed that 54% of General Practitioners are either supportive or neutral towards the introduction of assisted dying laws.[94] A similar poll on Doctors.net.uk published in the BMJ said that 55% of doctors would support it.[95] In contrast the BMA, which represents doctors in the UK, opposes it.[96]

An anonymous, confidential postal survey of all General Practitioners in Northern Ireland, conducted in the year 2000, found that over 70% of responding GPs were opposed to physician assisted suicide and voluntary active euthanasia.[97]

Legality by country

Voluntary euthanasia was legalized in the Netherlands (in 2002), Belgium (in 2002), Luxembourg (in 2008),[98] and Canada (in 2016).[99] Assisted suicide is legal in Canada, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland, the Australian state of Victoria and parts of the United States. In the United States there are assisted dying laws restricted to terminally ill adults in Oregon, Montana, Washington, Vermont, Maine (eff. 1/1/2020), New Jersey, Hawaii, California, Colorado and Washington D.C.[100] The laws require that the patient's attending physician certify mental competence. Oregon was the first United States state to legalize assisted suicide, which was achieved through popular vote. The Act was a citizens' initiative passed twice by Oregon voters. The first time was in a general election in November 1994 when it passed by a margin of 51% to 49%. An injunction delayed implementation of the Act until it was lifted on October 27, 1997. In November 1997, a measure was placed on the general election ballot to repeal the Act. Voters chose to retain the Act by a margin of 60% to 40%.[101]

Australia

Laws regarding euthanasia in Australia are a matter for state governments, and in the case of the territories, the federal government. Assisted suicide is currently only legal in the state of Victoria, after the Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017 (Victoria) came into effect on 19 June 2019.[102] In all other states and territories it remains illegal.

Under Victorian law, patients can ask medical practitioners regarding voluntary assisted dying and doctors, including conscientious objectors, should refer to appropriately trained colleagues who do not conscientiously object.[103] Health practitioners are restricted from initiating conversation or suggesting voluntary assisted dying to a patient unprompted.

Euthanasia was legal in the Northern Territory for a short time under the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995, until this law was overturned by the Federal Government who also removed the ability for territories to pass legislation relating to assisted dying. The highly controversial 'Euthanasia Machine', the first invented voluntary assisted dying machine of its kind, created by Philip Nitschke, utilised during this period is presently held at London's Science Museum.[104]

Belgium

The Euthanasia Act legalized euthanasia in Belgium in 2002,[105][106] but it didn't cover assisted suicide.[107]

Canada

Suicide was considered a criminal offence in Canada until 1972. Physician-assisted suicide has been legal in the Province of Quebec since June 5, 2014.[108] It was declared legal across the country because of the Supreme Court of Canada decision Carter v Canada (AG), of February 6, 2015. After a lengthy delay, the House of Commons passed a Bill (C-14) in mid June 2016 that allows for doctor-assisted suicide. Between December 10, 2015 and June 30, 2017, since the passing of Bill C-14, over 2,149 medically assisted deaths were documented in Canada. Research published by Health Canada illustrates physician preference for physician administered euthanasia, citing concerns of effective administration and prevention of the potential complications of self-administration by patients.[109]

China

In China, assisted suicide is illegal under Articles 232 and 233 of the Criminal Law of the People's Republic of China.[110] In China, suicide or neglect is considered homicide and can be punished by three to seven years in prison.[111] In May 2011, Zhong Yichun, a farmer, was sentenced two years' imprisonment by the People's Court of Longnan County, in China's Jiangxi Province for assisting Zeng Qianxiang to commit suicide. Zeng suffered from mental illness and repeatedly asked Zhong to help him commit suicide. In October 2010, Zeng took excessive sleeping pills and lay in a cave. As planned, Zhong called him 15 minutes later to confirm that he was dead and buried him. However, according to the autopsy report, the cause of death was from suffocation, not an overdose. Zhong was convicted of criminal negligence. In August 2011, Zhong appealed the court sentence, but it was rejected.[111]

In 1992, a physician was accused of murdering a patient with advanced cancer by lethal injection. He was eventually acquitted.[111]

Colombia

In May 1997 the Colombian Constitutional Court allowed for the euthanasia of sick patients who requested to end their lives, by passing Article 326 of the 1980 Penal Code.[112] This ruling owes its success to the efforts of a group that strongly opposed euthanasia. When one of its members brought a lawsuit to the Colombian Supreme Court against it, the court issued a 6 to 3 decision that "spelled out the rights of a terminally ill person to engage in voluntary euthanasia".[113]

In February 2015, the Supreme Court gave the government 30 days to create a comprehensive set of guidelines for doctors, to assist them in avoiding breaches of the law, as although technically legal, many physicians face lawsuits where they must prove that all legal requirements were met prior to the procedure. This fear of legal action has led many doctors to refuse to perform the procedure, in spite of its legality.[114]

Denmark

Assisted suicide is illegal in Denmark. Passive euthanasia, or the refusal to accept treatment, is not illegal. One survey found that 71% of Denmark's population was in favor of legalizing voluntary euthanasia and assisted suicide.[115]

France

Assisted suicide is not legal in France. The controversy over legalising euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide is not as big as in the United States because of the country's "well developed hospice care programme".[116] However, in 2000 the controversy over the topic was ignited with Vincent Humbert. After a car crash that left him "unable to 'walk, see, speak, smell or taste'", he used the movement of his right thumb to write a book, I Ask the Right to Die (Je vous demande le droit de mourir) in which he voiced his desire to "die legally".[116] After his appeal was denied, his mother assisted in killing him by injecting him with an overdose of barbiturates that put him into a coma, killing him two days later. Though his mother was arrested for aiding in her son's death and later acquitted, the case did jump-start new legislation which states that when medicine serves "no other purpose than the artificial support of life" it can be "suspended or not undertaken".[117]

Germany

Killing somebody in accordance with their demands is always illegal under the German criminal code (Paragraph 216, "Killing at the request of the victim; mercy killing").[118]

Assisting suicide by, for example, providing poison or a weapon, is generally legal. Since suicide itself is legal, assistance or encouragement is not punishable by the usual legal mechanisms dealing with complicity and incitement (German criminal law follows the idea of "accessories of complicity" which states that "the motives of a person who incites another person to commit suicide, or who assists in its commission, are irrelevant").[119] Nor is assisting with suicide explicitly outlawed by the criminal code. There can however be legal repercussions under certain conditions for a number of reasons. Aside from laws regulating firearms, the trade and handling of controlled substances and the like (e.g. when acquiring poison for the suicidal person), this concerns three points:

Free vs. manipulated will

If the suicidal person is not acting out of his own free will, then assistance is punishable by any of a number of homicide offences that the criminal code provides for, as having "acted through another person" (§25, section 1 of the German criminal code,[120] usually called "mittelbare Täterschaft"). Action out of free will is not ruled out by the decision to end one's life in itself; it can be assumed as long as a suicidal person "decides on his own fate up to the end [...] and is in control of the situation".[119]

Free will cannot be assumed, however, if someone is manipulated or deceived. A classic textbook example for this, in German law, is the so-called Sirius case on which the Federal Court of Justice ruled in 1983: The accused had convinced an acquaintance that she would be reincarnated into a better life if she killed herself. She unsuccessfully attempted suicide, leading the accused to be charged with, and eventually convicted of attempted murder.[121] (The accused had also convinced the acquaintance that he hailed from the star Sirius, hence the name of the case).

Apart from manipulation, the criminal code states three conditions under which a person is not acting under his own free will:

  1. if the person is under 14
  2. if the person has "one of the mental diseases listed in §20 of the German Criminal Code"[122]
  3. a person that is acting under a state of emergency.

Under these circumstances, even if colloquially speaking one might say a person is acting of his own free will, a conviction of murder is possible.

Neglected duty to rescue

German criminal law obliges everybody to come to the rescue of others in an emergency, within certain limits (§323c of the German criminal code, "Omission to effect an easy rescue").[123] This is also known as a duty to rescue in English. Under this rule, the party assisting in the suicide can be convicted if, in finding the suicidal person in a state of unconsciousness, they do not do everything in their power to revive the subject.[124] In other words, if someone assists a person in committing suicide, leaves, but comes back and finds the person unconscious, they must try to revive them.[125]

This reasoning is disputed by legal scholars, citing that a life-threatening condition that is part, so to speak, of a suicide underway, is not an emergency. For those who would rely on that defence, the Federal Court of Justice has considered it an emergency in the past.

Homicide by omission

German law puts certain people in the position of a warrantor (Garantenstellung) for the well-being of another, e.g. parents, spouses, doctors and police officers. Such people might find themselves legally bound to do what they can to prevent a suicide; if they do not, they are guilty of homicide by omission.

Iceland

Assisted suicide is illegal. "At the current time, there are no initiatives in Iceland that seek the legalization of euthanasia or assisted suicide. The discussion on euthanasia has never received any interest in Iceland, and both lay people and health care professionals seem to have little interest in the topic. A few articles have appeared in newspapers but gained little attention."[126]

Ireland

Assisted suicide is illegal." Both euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal under Irish law. Depending on the circumstances, euthanasia is regarded as either manslaughter or murder and is punishable by up to life imprisonment."[127]

Luxembourg

In March 2003, a vote to legalise assisted suicide was lost by a single vote (at the time, assisted suicide was not illegal, as suicide was permitted under the criminal code, but a person assisting someone to take their own life could face prosecution).[128] After again failing to get royal assent for legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide, in December 2008 Luxembourg's parliament amended the country's constitution to take this power away from the monarch, the Grand Duke of Luxembourg.[129] Euthanasia and assisted suicide were legalized in the country in April, 2009.[130]

The Netherlands

Netherlands is the first country in the world formally to legalise euthanasia.[131] Physician-assisted suicide is legal under the same conditions as euthanasia. Physician-assisted suicide became allowed under the Act of 2001 which states the specific procedures and requirements needed in order to provide such assistance. Assisted suicide in the Netherlands follows a medical model which means that only doctors of patients who are suffering "unbearably without hope"[132] are allowed to grant a request for an assisted suicide. The Netherlands allows people over the age of 12 to pursue an assisted suicide when deemed necessary.

New Zealand

Assisted suicide is illegal in New Zealand. Under Section 179 of the Crimes Act 1961, it is illegal to 'aid and abet suicide.'

South Africa

South Africa is struggling with the debate over legalizing euthanasia. Owing to the underdeveloped health care system that pervades the majority of the country, Willem Landman, "a member of the South African Law Commission, at a symposium on euthanasia at the World Congress of Family Doctors" stated that many South African doctors would be willing to perform acts of euthanasia when it became legalized in the country.[133] He feels that because of the lack of doctors in the country, "[legalizing] euthanasia in South Africa would be premature and difficult to put into practice [...]".[133]

On 30 April 2015 the High Court in Pretoria granted Advocate Robin Stransham-Ford an order that would allow a doctor to assist him in taking his own life without the threat of prosecution. On 6 December 2016 the Supreme Court of Appeal overturned the High Court ruling.[134]

Switzerland

Though it is illegal to assist a patient in dying in some circumstances, there are others where there is no offence committed.[135] The relevant provision of the Swiss Criminal Code[136] refers to "a person who, for selfish reasons, incites someone to commit suicide or who assists that person in doing so will, if the suicide was carried out or attempted, be sentenced to a term of imprisonment (Zuchthaus) of up to 5 years or a term of imprisonment (Gefängnis)."

A person brought to court on a charge could presumably avoid conviction by proving that they were "motivated by the good intentions of bringing about a requested death for the purposes of relieving "suffering" rather than for "selfish" reasons.[137] In order to avoid conviction, the person has to prove that the deceased knew what he or she was doing, had capacity to make the decision, and had made an "earnest" request, meaning they asked for death several times. The person helping also has to avoid actually doing the act that leads to death, lest they be convicted under Article 114: Killing on request (Tötung auf Verlangen) - A person who, for decent reasons, especially compassion, kills a person on the basis of his or her serious and insistent request, will be sentenced to a term of imprisonment (Gefängnis). For instance, it should be the suicide subject who actually presses the syringe or takes the pill, after the helper had prepared the setup.[138] This way the country can criminalise certain controversial acts, which many of its people would oppose, while legalising a narrow range of assistive acts for some of those seeking help to end their lives.

In July 2009, British conductor Sir Edward Downes and his wife Joan died together at a suicide clinic outside Zürich "under circumstances of their own choosing". Sir Edward was not terminally ill, but his wife was diagnosed with rapidly developing cancer.[139]

In March 2010, the PBS FRONTLINE TV program in the United States showed a documentary called "The Suicide Tourist" which told the story of Professor Craig Ewert, his family, and Dignitas, and their decision to commit assisted suicide using sodium pentobarbital in Switzerland after he was diagnosed and suffering with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease).[140]

In May 2011, Zurich held a referendum that asked voters whether (i) assisted suicide should be prohibited outright; and (ii) whether Dignitas and other assisted suicide providers should not admit overseas users. Zurich voters heavily rejected both bans, despite anti-euthanasia lobbying from two Swiss social conservative political parties, the Evangelical People's Party of Switzerland and Federal Democratic Union. The outright ban proposal was rejected by 84% of voters, while 78% voted to keep services open should overseas users require them.[141]

In June 2011, The BBC televised the assisted suicide of Peter Smedley, a canning factory owner, who was suffering from motor neurone disease. The programme – Sir Terry Pratchett's Choosing To Die – told the story of Peter's journey to the end where he used The Dignitas Clinic, a euthanasia clinic in Switzerland, to assist him in carrying out the taking of his own life. The programme shows Peter eating chocolates to counter the unpalatable taste of the liquid he drinks to end his own life. Moments after drinking the liquid, Peter begged for water, gasped for breath and became red, he then fell into a deep sleep where he snored heavily while holding his wife's hand. Minutes later, Peter stopped breathing and his heart stopped beating.

In Switzerland non-physician-assisted suicide is legal, the assistance mostly being provided by volunteers, whereas in Belgium and the Netherlands, a physician must be present. In Switzerland, the doctors are primarily there to assess the patient's decision capacity and prescribe the lethal drugs. Additionally, unlike cases in the United States, a person is not required to have a terminal illness but only the capacity to make decisions. About 25% of people in Switzerland who take advantage of assisted suicide do not have a terminal illness but are simply old or "tired of life".[23]

Uruguay

Assisted suicide, while criminal, does not appear to have caused any convictions, as article 37 of the Penal Code (effective 1934) states: "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."[142]

United Kingdom

England and Wales

Deliberately assisting a suicide is illegal.[143] Between 2003 and 2006 Lord Joffe made four attempts to introduce bills that would have legalised assisted suicide in England & Wales—all were rejected by the UK Parliament.[144] In the meantime the Director of Public Prosecutions has clarified the criteria under which an individual will be prosecuted in England and Wales for assisting in another person's suicide.[145] These have not been tested by an appellate court as yet[146] In 2014 Lord Falconer of Thoroton tabled an Assisted Dying Bill in the House of Lords which passed its Second Reading but ran out of time before the General Election. During its passage peers voted down two amendments which were proposed by opponents of the Bill. In 2015 Labour MP Rob Marris introduced another Bill, based on the Falconer proposals, in the House of Commons. The Second Reading was the first time the House was able to vote on the issue since 1997. A Populus poll had found that 82% of the British public agreed with the proposals of Lord Falconer's Assisted Dying Bill.[147] However, in a free vote on 11 September 2015, only 118 MPs were in favour and 330 against, thus defeating the bill.[148]

Scotland

Unlike the other jurisdictions in the United Kingdom, suicide was not illegal in Scotland before 1961 (and still is not) thus no associated offences were created in imitation. Depending on the actual nature of any assistance given to a suicide, the offences of murder or culpable homicide might be committed or there might be no offence at all; the nearest modern prosecutions bearing comparison might be those where a culpable homicide conviction has been obtained when drug addicts have died unintentionally after being given "hands on" non-medical assistance with an injection. Modern law regarding the assistance of someone who intends to die has a lack of certainty as well as a lack of relevant case law; this has led to attempts to introduce statutes providing more certainty.

Independent MSP Margo MacDonald's "End of Life Assistance Bill" was brought before the Scottish Parliament to permit assisted suicide in January 2010. The Catholic Church and the Church of Scotland, the largest denomination in Scotland, opposed the bill. The bill was rejected by a vote of 85–16 (with 2 abstentions) in December 2010.[149][150]

The Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill was introduced on 13 November 2013 by the late Margo MacDonald MSP and was taken up by Patrick Harvie MSP on Ms MacDonald's death. The Bill entered the main committee scrutiny stage in January 2015 and reached a vote in Parliament several months later; however the bill was again rejected.

Northern Ireland

Health is a devolved matter in the United Kingdom and as such it would be for the Northern Ireland Assembly to legislate for assisted dying as it sees fit. As of 2018, there has been no such bill tabled in the Assembly.

United States

Legality of Assisted Suicide in the US
State laws regarding assisted suicide in the United States
  Legal
  Legal under court ruling1
  Illegal

1 In some states assisted suicide is protected through court ruling even though specific legislation allowing it does not exist.

Assisted death is legal in the American states of California (via the California End of Life Option Act of 2015, enacted June 2016),[151] Colorado (End of Life Options Act of 2016), Hawaii (Death with Dignity Act of 2018), Oregon (via the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, 1994),[152] Washington (Washington Death with Dignity Act of 2008), Washington DC (District of Columbia Death with Dignity Act of 2016), New Jersey (New Jersey Dignity In Dying Bill Of Rights Act of 2019), Maine[153] (eff. January 1, 2020 - Maine Death with Dignity Act of 2019) and Vermont (Patient Choice and Control at End of Life Act of 2013). In Montana (through the 2009 trial court ruling Baxter v. Montana), the court found no public policy against assisting suicide, so consent may be raised as a defense at trial. Oregon and Washington specify some restrictions. It was briefly legal in New Mexico from 2014, but this verdict was overturned in 2015. Maine is the most recent state that has legalized assisted suicide, with a bill passed by the state assembly in June and approved by the Governor on June 12, 2019. Goes into legal effect on January 1, 2020.

Oregon requires a physician to prescribe drugs but, it must be self-administered. For the patient to be eligible, the patient must be diagnosed by an attending physician as well as by a consulting physician, with a terminal illness that will cause the death of the individual within six months. The law states that, in order to participate, a patient must be: 1) 18 years of age or older, 2) a resident of Oregon, 3) capable of making and communicating health care decisions for him/herself, and 4) diagnosed with a terminal illness that will lead to death within six months. It is up to the attending physician to determine whether these criteria have been met.[101] It is required the patient orally request the medication at least twice and contribute at least one (1) written request. The physician must notify the patient of alternatives; such as palliative care, hospice and pain management. Lastly the physician is to request but not require the patient to notify their next of kin that they are requesting a prescription for a lethal dose of medication. Assuming all guidelines are met and the patient is deemed competent and completely sure they wish to end their life, the physician will prescribe the drugs.[154]

The law was passed in 1997. As of 2013, a total of 1,173 people had DWDA prescriptions written and 752 patients had died from ingesting drugs prescribed under the DWDA.[155] In 2013, there were approximately 22 assisted deaths per 10,000 total deaths in Oregon.[155]

Washington's rules and restrictions are similar, if not exactly the same, as Oregon's. Not only does the patient have to meet the above criteria, they also have to be examined by not one, but two doctors licensed in their state of residence. Both doctors must come to the same conclusion about the patient's prognosis. If one doctor does not see the patient fit for the prescription, then the patient must undergo psychological inspection to tell whether or not the patient is in fact capable and mentally fit to make the decision of assisted death or not.[154]

In May 2013, Vermont became the fourth state in the union to legalize medical aid-in-dying. Vermont's House of Representatives voted 75–65 to approve the bill, Patient Choice and Control at End of Life Act. This bill states that the qualifying patient must be at least 18, a Vermont resident and suffering from an incurable and irreversible disease, with less than six months to live. Also, two physicians, including the prescribing doctor must make the medical determination.[156]

In January 2014, it seemed as though New Mexico had inched closer to being the fifth state in the United States to legalize assisted suicide via a court ruling.[157] "This court cannot envision a right more fundamental, more private or more integral to the liberty, safety and happiness of a New Mexican than the right of a competent, terminally ill patient to choose aid in dying," wrote Judge Nan G. Nash of the Second District Court in Albuquerque. The NM attorney general's office said it was studying the decision and whether to appeal to the State Supreme Court. However, this was overturned on August 11, 2015 by the New Mexico Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 ruling, that overturned the Bernalillo County District Court Ruling. The Court gave the verdict: "We conclude that aid in dying is not a fundamental liberty interest under the New Mexico Constitution".[158]

In November 2016, the citizens of Colorado approved Proposition 106, the Colorado End of Life Options Act, with 65% in favor. This made it the third state to legalize medical aid-in-dying by a vote of the people, raising the total to six states.

The punishment for participating in physician-assisted death (PAD) varies throughout many states. The state of Wyoming does not “recognize common law crimes and does not have a statute specifically prohibiting assisted suicide”. In Florida, “every person deliberately assisting another in the commission of self-murder shall be guilty of manslaughter, a felony of the second degree”.[159]

States currently considering assisted suicide laws

Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, and Wisconsin.

Washington vs. Glucksberg

In Washington, physician-assisted suicide did not become legal until 2008.[160] In 1997, four Washington physicians and three terminally ill patients brought forth a lawsuit that would challenge the ban on medical aid in dying that was in place at the time. This lawsuit was first part of a district court hearing, where it ruled in favor of Glucksberg,[161] which was the group of physicians and terminally ill patients. The lawsuit was then affirmed by the Ninth Circuit.[162] Thus, it was taken to the Supreme Court, and there the Supreme Court decided to grant Washington certiorari. Eventually, the Supreme Court decided, with a unanimous vote, that medical aid in dying was not a protected right under the constitution as of the time of this case.[163] The laws and arguments on this topic are often argued and changed depending on legal evaluation and decision.

Brittany Maynard

A highly publicized case in the United States was the death of Brittany Maynard in 2014. After being diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, Maynard decided that instead of suffering with the side effects the cancer would bring, she wanted to choose when she would die. She was residing in California when she was diagnosed, where assisted death was not legal. She and her husband moved to Oregon where assisted death was legal, so she could take advantage of the program. Before her death, she started the Brittany Maynard fund, which works to legalize the choice of ending one's life in cases of a terminal illness. Her public advocacy motivated her family to continue to try and get assisted death laws passed in all 50 states.[164]

Published research

A study approved by the Dutch Ministry of Health, the Dutch Ministry of Justice, and the Royal Dutch Medical Association reviewed the efficacy in cases of physician-aided dying (PAD).These studies, conducted in the Netherlands in 1990, 1991, 1995 and 1996 totaling 649 cases of which 114 cases were physician-assisted suicide and 535 were euthanasia, showed complications of any category were of higher frequency in cases of assisted suicide than in cases of euthanasia.[165] This showed that 32% of cases had complications. These included 12% with time to death longer than expected (45 min – 14 days), 9% with problems administering the required drugs, 9% with a physical symptom (e.g. nausea, vomiting, myoclonus) and 2% waking from coma. In 18% of cases the doctors provided euthanasia because of problems or failures with PAD.

The Portland (Oregon) Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the Department of Psychiatry at the Oregon Health and Science University set out to assess the prevalence of depression in 58 patients who had chosen PAD.[166] Of 15 patients who went to receive PAD, three (20%) had a clinical depression. All patients who participated in the study were determined in advance to be mentally competent. The authors conclude that the "...current practice of the (Oregon) Death with Dignity Act may fail to protect some patients whose choices are influenced by depression from receiving a prescription for a lethal drug".

In a Dutch study of patients with severe and persistent symptoms requiring sedation, the researchers found that only 9% of patients received a palliative care consultation prior to being sedated.[167]

From 1990 to 1995 a group of doctors in the Netherlands interviewed and studied physicians in charge of giving patients the life ending drugs used in assisted suicide cases. They found that from 1990 to 1995 the use of this method rose slightly as more patients were turning to assisted suicide as an end of life option. From 1990 to 1995 the number of deaths from assisted suicide methods had risen from 486 in 1990 to 1466 in 1995. When interviewing these physicians they found that 88% had been asked for the life ending drugs and 77% reported they had asked for the drugs at a specific time. They also discovered there was a number of physicians equal to about 0.7% who had given their patients these life ending drugs without the patient's explicit consent.[168]

Popular culture

Films

Television

In the American television series House, assisted suicide is mentioned multiple times. The character Allison Cameron assisted in the death of a patient in the episode Informed Consent after its revealed he has a terminal condition. In the episode Known Unknowns, Dr. Wilson, an oncologist, reveals he indirectly provided a patient dying from cancer the code to increase his morphine level to a lethal amount leading to the patients death. In the episode The Dig, Thirteen reveals she assisted her brother in his suicide who was suffering from advanced symptoms of Huntington's disease and that was she was sent to prison for overprescribing. In the same episode, House promises to assist her in killing herself once her own Huntington's symptoms get too bad.

See also

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External links

2012 Massachusetts ballot measures

Three citizen-initiated measures were voted upon in the 2012 Massachusetts general election: a Right to Repair initiave, a proposal to allow physician-assisted suicide, and a measure to legalize medical marijuana. The Right to Repair initiative, which was to require open access to vehicle diagnostic and repair information, passed overwhelmingly, with 86% support. The measure to allow physician-assisted suicide failed by a narrow margin, with 51% opposed. The proposal to legalize medical marijuana passed with 63% of voter support.The Massachusetts Constitution can be amended through initiative and state statutes can be proposed through initiative. All three statewide ballot measures that were on the November 2012 ballot by collecting signatures are proposed statutes (not constitutional amendments).

In Massachusetts, after the state determines which initiatives have succeeded in collecting enough signatures to be placed on the ballot, official numbers/names are assigned to each of the successful initiatives. The Secretary of the Commonwealth has discretion over the order of questions on the ballot.

Assisted suicide in the United States

Assisted suicide is defined as suicide committed with the aid of another person, sometimes a doctor. “Assisted suicide" has been used to describe what proponents refer to as medical aid in dying in the United States for terminally ill adults who self-administer barbiturates if they feel that they are suffering significantly. The term is often used interchangeably with physician-assisted suicide (PAS), "physician-assisted dying", "physician-assisted death", "assisted death" and "aid in dying".

Assisted suicide is similar to but distinct from euthanasia (sometimes called "mercy killing"). In cases of euthanasia another party acts to bring about the person's death in order to end ongoing suffering. In cases of assisted suicide a second person provides the means through which the individual is able to voluntarily end their own life, but they do not directly cause the individual's death.

Physician-assisted death or "aid in dying" is legal in nine jurisdictions: California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Montana, Maine (starting January 1, 2020), New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. These laws (excluding Montana since there is no law) expressly state that, "actions taken in accordance with [the Act] shall not, for any purpose, constitute suicide, assisted suicide, mercy killing or homicide, under the law". This distinguishes the legal act of “medical aid in dying” from the act of suicide.

A 2017 poll by Gallup displayed that a solid majority of Americans, with 73 percent in favor, support laws allowing patients to seek the assistance of a physician in ending their life. Nevertheless, assisted suicide remains illegal in a majority of states across the nation.

Betty and George Coumbias

Betty and George Coumbias were a Canadian married couple who sought to become the first husband and wife to complete simultaneous suicides with legal authorization. They were featured in John Zaritsky's 2007 documentary, The Suicide Tourist. Although assisted suicide was illegal in Canada, they hoped to end their lives with the approval of the government of Switzerland.

The couple's request was unusual in that, while George Coumbias suffered from heart disease, Betty Coumbias was reported to be in excellent health.Ludwig Minelli, director of Swiss assisted-suicide group Dignitas, petitioned the Canton of Zurich to grant doctors the authority to issue lethal drugs to healthy people after being counseled by his organization, hoping to facilitate the Coumbias' suicide pact.In 2009, Betty Coumbias developed cancer and died, while George continued to live with his heart condition. He died in 2016.

Compassion

Compassion motivates people to go out of their way to help the physical, mental, or emotional pains of another and themselves. Compassion is often regarded as having sensitivity, an emotional aspect to suffering, though when based on cerebral notions such as fairness, justice, and interdependence, it may be considered rational in nature and its application understood as an activity also based on sound judgment. There is also an aspect of equal dimension, such that an individual's compassion is often given a property of "depth", "vigor", or "passion". The etymology of "compassion" is Latin, meaning "co-suffering." Compassion involves "feeling for another" and is a precursor to empathy, the "feeling as another" capacity for better person-centered acts of active compassion; in common parlance active compassion is the desire to alleviate another's suffering.Compassion involves allowing ourselves to be moved by suffering and experiencing the motivation to help alleviate and prevent it. An act of compassion is defined by its helpfulness. Qualities of compassion are patience and wisdom; kindness and perseverance; warmth and resolve. It is often, though not inevitably, the key component in what manifests in the social context as altruism. Expression of compassion is prone to be hierarchical, paternalistic and controlling in responses. Difference between sympathy and compassion is that the former responds to suffering from sorrow and concern while the latter responds with warmth and care.The English noun compassion, meaning to love together with, comes from Latin. Its prefix com- comes directly from com, an archaic version of the Latin preposition and affix cum (= with); the -passion segment is derived from passus, past participle of the deponent verb patior, patī, passus sum. Compassion is thus related in origin, form and meaning to the English noun patient (= one who suffers), from patiens, present participle of the same patior, and is akin to the Greek verb πάσχειν (= paskhein, to suffer) and to its cognate noun πάθος (= pathos). Ranked a great virtue in numerous philosophies, compassion is considered in almost all the major religious traditions as among the greatest of virtues.

Dignitas (Swiss non-profit organisation)

Dignitas is a Swiss non-profit members' society providing assisted/accompanied suicide to those members of the organisation who suffer from terminal illness and/or severe physical and/or mental illnesses, supported by (of the organization independent) qualified Swiss doctors. They have assisted over 2,100 people die at home within Switzerland and at Dignitas' house/flat near Zürich. Additionally, they do advisory work on palliative care, health care advance directive and suicide attempt prevention, and they have been leading and supporting numerous court cases and legislation projects for right-to-die laws around the world.Members of Dignitas who wish for an assisted suicide have to be of sound judgement, themselves able to do the last act which brings about death, and submit a formal request including a letter explaining their wish to die and most of all medical reports showing diagnosis and treatments tried. For people with severe psychiatric illnesses, additionally, an in-depth medical report prepared by a psychiatrist that establishes the patient's condition, is required as per a Swiss Supreme Court decision.

Euthanasia

Euthanasia (from Greek: εὐθανασία; "good death": εὖ, eu; "well" or "good" + θάνατος, thanatos; "death") is the practice of intentionally ending a life to relieve pain and suffering.Different countries have different euthanasia laws. The British House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics defines euthanasia as "a deliberate intervention undertaken with the express intention of ending a life, to relieve intractable suffering". In the Netherlands and Belgium, euthanasia is understood as "termination of life by a doctor at the request of a patient". The Dutch law however, does not use the term 'euthanasia' but includes the concept under the broader definition of "assisted suicide and termination of life on request".Euthanasia is categorized in different ways, which include voluntary, non-voluntary, or involuntary:

Voluntary euthanasia is legal in some countries.

Non-voluntary euthanasia (patient's consent unavailable) is illegal in all countries.

Involuntary euthanasia (without asking consent or against the patient's will) is also illegal in all countries and is usually considered murder.As of 2006 euthanasia had become the most active area of research in bioethics.

In some countries divisive public controversy occurs over the moral, ethical, and legal issues associated with euthanasia. Passive euthanasia (known as "pulling the plug") is legal under some circumstances in many countries. Active euthanasia, however, is legal or de facto legal in only a handful of countries (for example: Belgium, Canada and Switzerland), which limit it to specific circumstances and require the approval of counselors and doctors or other specialists. In some countries - such as Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan - support for active euthanasia is almost non-existent.

Euthanasia in Canada

Euthanasia in Canada in its legal voluntary form is called medical assistance in dying and became legal along with assisted suicide as of June 2016 to end the suffering of terminally ill adults.

Bill C-14, passed by the Parliament of Canada in June 2016, amended the Canadian Criminal Code so as to legalise both physician-administered euthanasia (PAE) and physician-assisted suicide (PAS), and to govern access to both procedures in Canada. Neither euthanasia nor assisted suicide are available to minors, nor on the grounds of mental illness, long-term disability, or any curable condition. To prevent suicide tourism, it is available only to residents eligible for Canadian healthcare coverage. Advance directives are not allowed in Canada for voluntary euthanasia and patients cannot arrange to consent "in advance" to dying later at the hands of a caregiver (such as in cases of dementia or Alzheimer's disease where patients may want to die after they reach an advanced state of mental decline).

Canada's assisted dying law includes legal safeguards aimed at preventing abuse and ensuring informed consent. Neither the legal witnesses, nor the physicians involved, can have any legal or financial interest in the outcomes of the patient. Consent must be repeatedly expressed, not implied, including in the moment right before death. Consent can be revoked at any time, in any manner. There are no consequences for backing out and there are no limits to how often it can be requested.

To receive a medically assisted death, patients experiencing intolerable suffering must sign a written request expressing their wish to end their life in front of two independent witnesses who can both confirm it was done willingly free of coercion, 10 clear days before the date of death. Next, two physicians and/or nurse practitioners must independently confirm their written agreement that the patient has an incurable grievous and irremediable medical condition that is in an advanced state of irreversible decline, that the patient's natural death is reasonably foreseeable, and that the patient is capable and willing of receiving a medically assisted death. If they are eligible, patients must be informed about their palliative care options to relieve end-of-life suffering before they can die.

Assisted suicide was previously prohibited under the criminal code as a form of culpable homicide. The prohibition was overturned in a February 2015 decision by the Supreme Court in Carter v Canada (Attorney General), which ruled that adults with grievous and irremediable medical conditions are entitled to physician-assisted suicide. The Court delayed its suspension of invalidity for a period of 12 months, to allow Parliament the opportunity to amend its laws, if it so chose. In January 2016, the Court granted an additional four-month extension to the suspension to allow for further time. As an interim measure, it ruled that provincial courts can now begin approving applications for euthanasia pursuant to the criteria in the Carter decision. On 6 June 2016, the suspension of invalidity expired and the law was struck down. On 17 June 2016, a bill to legalize and regulate assisted dying passed in Canada's Parliament.The current law's requirement that a natural death must be "reasonably foreseeable" or "incurable", has been controversial for how it vastly limits the original Supreme Court of Canada ruling mandating assisted dying be made available to all adults with "grievous and irremediable" medical conditions. The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) is challenging the constitutionality of the current law because it excludes people with long-term disabilities, and those with "curable" medical conditions whose only treatment options people may find unacceptable. The BCCLA argues these medical conditions should qualify under the court's definition of "grievous and irremediable".

Euthanasia in the United States

Euthanasia is illegal in most of the United States. Assisted suicide/assisted death is legal in Washington, D.C. and the states of California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, Maine (Starting January 1, 2020), New Jersey, Hawaii, and Washington; its status is disputed in Montana. The key difference between euthanasia and assisted suicide is that in cases of assisted suicide, the individual receives assistance, but ultimately voluntarily causes their own death. In euthanasia the individual does not directly end their life, but another person acts to cause the individual's death.

Final Exit

Final Exit (fully titled Final Exit: The Practicalities of Self-Deliverance and Assisted Suicide for the Dying) is a 1991 book written by Derek Humphry, a British-born American journalist, author, and assisted suicide advocate who co-founded the now-defunct Hemlock Society in 1980 and co-founded the Final Exit Network in 2004. The book was first published in 1991 by the Hemlock Society USA in hardback. Next year its 2nd edition was published by Dell in trade paperback. The current updated edition was published in 2010.The book, often described as a "suicide manual", describes the means that the terminally ill may use to end their lives. The book further outlines relevant laws, techniques, and living wills. Final Exit was perceived as controversial, and the book drove debate regarding the right to die. Another concern was that people who were mentally ill could use the information found in the book to end their lives. Despite the controversy, Final Exit reached #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list in August.Final Exit Network claims that approximately 750,000 copies have been sold in the United States and Canada and approximately 500,000 elsewhere. The book is banned in France. Final Exit is Derek Humphry’s third book on the subject of self-euthanasia; it was preceded by Jean's Way (1978) and The Right to Die: Understanding Euthanasia (1986)

Hemlock Society

The Hemlock Society (sometimes called Hemlock Society USA) was an American right-to-die and assisted suicide advocacy organization which existed from 1980 to 2003. It was co-founded in Santa Monica, California by British author and activist Derek Humphry, his wife Ann Wickett Humphry (1942-1991), and Gerald A. Larue. It relocated to Oregon in 1988 and, according to Humphry, had several homes over its life. The group took its name from Conium maculatum, a highly poisonous biennial herbaceous flowering plant in the carrot family. The choice of the name is a direct reference to the method by which the Athenian philosopher Socrates took his life in 399 B.C. as described in Plato's Phaedo. It is not a firsthand account; the alleged event was told to Plato by one of Socrates' students, Phaedo of Elis.

The Hemlock Society's primary missions included providing information to the dying and supporting legislation permitting physician-assisted suicide. Its motto was "Good Life, Good Death". In 2003, the national organization renamed itself End of Life Choices. In 2007, they merged with the Compassion in Dying Federation to become Compassion & Choices. In 2004, some former members of the Hemlock Society, notably Derek Humphry and Faye Girsh, founded the Final Exit Network. It took its name from Humphry's 1991 book of the same name.Several local and state organizations have adopted and retain the Hemlock Society name, including Florida and San Diego, California. Others, such as the Hemlock Society of Illinois (now Final Options Illinois) have changed their names.

Jack Kevorkian

Jack Kevorkian (; May 26, 1928 – June 3, 2011) was an American pathologist and euthanasia proponent. He publicly championed a terminal patient's right to die by physician-assisted suicide, and claimed to have assisted at least 130 patients to that end. He was often portrayed in the media with the name of "Dr. Death". There was support for his cause, and he helped set the platform for reform. He said, "Dying is not a crime".In 1990, Kevorkian was arrested and tried for his direct role in a case of voluntary euthanasia. He was convicted of second-degree murder and served 8 years of a 10-to-25-year prison sentence. He was released on parole on June 1, 2007, on condition he would not offer advice nor participate nor be present in the act of any type of suicide involving euthanasia to any other person; as well as neither promote nor talk about the procedure of assisted suicide.

Legality of euthanasia

Efforts to change government policies on euthanasia of humans in the 20th and 21st centuries have met limited success in Western countries. Human euthanasia policies have also been developed by a variety of NGOs, most notably medical associations and advocacy organizations. As of March 2018, active human euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Colombia, Luxembourg, and Canada. Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, and in the US states of Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Hawaii, Vermont, Montana, Washington, D.C., Maine (Starting January 1, 2020), New Jersey, and California.

Manslaughter

Manslaughter is a common law legal term for homicide considered by law as less culpable than murder. The distinction between murder and manslaughter is sometimes said to have first been made by the ancient Athenian lawmaker Draco in the 7th century BC.The definition of manslaughter differs among legal jurisdictions.

Massachusetts Death with Dignity Initiative

The Massachusetts "Death with Dignity" Initiative, also known as Question 2, appeared on the November 6, 2012 general election ballot in the state of Massachusetts as an indirect initiated state statute to allow physician-assisted suicide. The measure was filed with the Massachusetts Attorney General and would establish, according to those who filed the measure, an "Act Relative to Death with Dignity". The petition number for the initiative was 11-12, and was filed by Michael Clarke as "An Initiative Petition for an Act Relative to Death with Dignity".The proposal was to allow terminally ill patients to be given lethal drugs. A terminally ill patient would be defined as a patient being given six months or fewer to live. The patient requesting the medication must be mentally capable to make medical decisions while consulting their respective doctors. Patients would be required to submit their request orally twice and witnessed in writing, and the initial verbal request must be fifteen days prior to the written request and second oral request. The patient's terminal diagnosis and capability to make health care decisions must be confirmed by a second doctor.The proposed measure, according to the text, requires substantial compliance with these and other requirements. The text states: "A person who substantially complies in good faith with provisions of this chapter shall be deemed to be in compliance with this chapter."The proposed act also allows blood relatives to participate in assisting the patient to sign up for the lethal dose, providing that one of the required witnesses on the lethal dose request form not be a patient’s relative by blood, marriage or adoption.Supporters argue that the measure would give terminally ill patients dignity and control over their deaths, and would alleviate suffering. Opponents argue that the measure is morally wrong, and that beneficiaries of terminally ill patients could abuse the provisions presented by the proposal.

Voters blocked the measure by a thin margin in the November 6, 2012 general election, with 49% of voters for and 51% against.

Right to die

The right to die is a concept based on the opinion that a human being is entitled to end their life or undergo voluntary euthanasia. Possession of this right is often understood that a person with a terminal illness, or without the will to continue living, should be allowed to end their own life, use assisted suicide, or to decline life-prolonging treatment. The question of whom, if anyone, should be empowered to make this decision is often central to the debate.

Some academics and philosophers, such as David Benatar, consider humans to be overly optimistic in their view of the quality of their lives, and their view of the balance between the positive and the negative aspects of living. This idea can be considered in terms of antinatalism and the lack of agency regarding one's birth and who should have authority over one's choice to live or die.

Proponents typically associate the right to die with the idea that one's body and one's life are one's own, to dispose of as one sees fit. However, a legitimate state interest in preventing irrational suicides is often up for debate. Pilpel and Amsel wrote: Contemporary proponents of "rational suicide" or the "right to die" usually demand by "rationality" that the decision to kill oneself be both the autonomous choice of the agent (i.e., not due to the physician or the family pressuring them to "do the right thing" and commit suicide) and a "best option under the circumstances" choice desired by the stoics or utilitarians, as well as other natural conditions such as the choice being stable, not an impulsive decision, not due to mental illness, achieved after due deliberation, etc.Hinduism accepts the right to die for those who are tormented by terminal diseases or those who have no desire, no ambition or no responsibilities remaining. Death, however, is allowed by non-violent means such as fasting to the point of starvation (Prayopavesa). Jainism has a similar practice named Santhara. Other religious views on suicide vary in their tolerance and include denial of the right as well as condemnation of the act. In the Catholic faith, suicide is considered a grave sin.

Suicide by cop

Suicide by cop or suicide by police is a suicide method in which a suicidal individual deliberately behaves in a threatening manner, with intent to provoke a lethal response from a public safety or law enforcement officer.

Suicide tourism

Suicide tourism, or euthanasia tourism, is the practice of potential suicide candidates travelling to a jurisdiction to commit assisted suicide or suicide. In some jurisdictions, assisted suicide is legal.

Voluntary euthanasia

Voluntary euthanasia is the practice of ending a life in a painless manner. Voluntary euthanasia (VE) and physician-assisted suicide (PAS) have been the focus of great controversy in recent years.

Some forms of voluntary euthanasia are legal in Belgium, Colombia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Canada.

Washington Death with Dignity Act

Initiative 1000 (I-1000) of 2008 established the U.S. state of Washington's Death with Dignity Act (RCW 70.245), which legalizes medical aid in dying with certain restrictions. Passage of this initiative made Washington the second U.S. state to permit some terminally ill patients to determine the time of their own death. The effort was headed by former Governor Booth Gardner.

The measure was approved in the November 4, 2008 general election. 1,715,219 votes (57.82%) were cast in favor, 1,251,255 votes during the united electorate (42.18%) against. There were 2,966,474 votes total. 30 of the state's 39 counties voted in favor of the initiative.In 1991, the similar initiative 119 was rejected by Washington voters by a margin of 54 percent to 46 percent. I-119 would have allowed doctors to prescribe a lethal dosage of medication, and also to administer it if the terminally ill patient could not self-administer.

Unlike that initiative, I-1000 requires the patient to ingest the medication unassisted.The initiative is based on Oregon Measure 16, which Oregon voters passed in 1994 but was not implemented until 1997. At that time, Oregon was the only other state to have enacted similar legislation. In 2013, Vermont became the third state to enact similar legislation. In 2016, California became the fourth state to enact similar legislation. All states on the west coast now have similar legislation.

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