Global laws obviously vary on assisted suicide as the religious and cultural makeup of each country and ethnic group will differ.
While some countries, such as Canada, ban assisting a person’s suicide outright, the suicide where the patient has to take the final action is legal in other nations. The assisted termination of one’s life is legal in several countries of the globe, and in the United States there are assisted dying laws which are restricted to terminally ill and mentally competent adults with legal residency in only Oregon, Montana, Washington and Vermont. The topic is sticky for most religious and political leaders who wish to stand on the side of prohibiting suicide in any form, yet morally recognize the suffering of patients who are suffering undeniable and untreatable pain without hope for release.
Assisted Suicide Definition and Physician Assisted Suicide Definition
The topics of physician assisted suicide and assisted suicide are quite different from each other, and in no case should either of them be linked or associated in any manner with the ethics pro and con of abortion. The circumstances, ethics, moral and religious issues are widely disassociated and not to be covered by the same blanket.
- Assisted Suicide – Act is committed with the aid of another person, sometimes a physician, although some laws separate physician assistance into another form; however, the term is often used along with physician-assisted suicide (PAS) in lay society. Both suicidewith assistance and euthanasia are sometimes lumped together as “assisted dying”, just a buzz word by advocates to replace the word “suicide” with “death” or just “dying”. Other plays on words in common use are:
- aid in dying,
- death with dignity,
- dying with dignity,
- right to die compassionate death,
- compassionate dying,
- end-of-life choice, and
- the negative term, mercy killing
- Physician-assisted suicide is often confused with euthanasia by the public. In cases of euthanasia the physician personally and professionally administers the means of death, usually a lethal drug. Physician assisted suicide (PAS) is always at the request and with the consent of the patient, since the patient individually self-administers the means of death. Physicians can only prescribe lethal medications where it is statutorily legal, no matter what the patient wants or medical prognosis.
Discussions of initiating laws permitting assisted suicide centers on legal, social, ethical, moral and religious issues related to suicide and murder. The patient’s humane rights are usually disregarded as immaterial in such judicial discussions, due to them being universally considered inferior in importance to the legal, social, ethical, moral and religious arenas.
Assisted Suicide and Physician Assisted Suicide Legality by Individual Country
Assisted suicide is currently illegal throughout Australia, but for a time was legal in Northern Territory under Bill of 1995 Rights of Terminally Ill.
Belgium legalized euthanasia with the 2002 “Euthanasia Act”, but not assisted suicide. In 2006, Belgium partially legalized euthanasia with specific regulations:
- Subject patient must be adult in a (direct Act quote): “futile medical condition of constant and unbearable physical or mental suffering that cannot be alleviated”;
- The patient must have long-term history with assisting doctor, and
- euthanasia is allowed for permanent residents only;
- Multiple requests must be received and reviewed by a commission and approved by two doctors.
Suicide was a criminal offence in Canada until 1972, after which it was removed from the Criminal Code. However, Physician-assisted and other suicide assistance are illegal, except in the province of Quebec, where doctor assisted suicide or euthanasia became legal in June, 2014.
People’s Daily reported “Nine people from Xi’an City in China made news when they ‘jointly wrote to local media asking for euthanasia, or mercy killings”. These people had uremia, a disease due to the failure of the kidneys, and expressed their “unbearable suffering and [an unwillingness] to burden their families any more”. However, due to the illegality, all doctors were permitted to do was relieve their pain.
Despite strict Roman Catholic history, in May, 1997 Colombian courts permitted euthanasia of sick patients who requested to end their lives.
Assisting any suicide is illegal and punishable as manslaughter by up to 3 years.
In 2009 a new legislation stated when medicine serves “no other purpose than the artificial support of life” it can be “suspended or not undertaken”. In 2013 President Francois Hollande said that France should nationally debate the issue and he would introduce a bill to parliament. Opinion polls reveal majority of the public are in favor of a suicide assistance law, however France’s national ethics committee advised against any change in the law.
Killing somebody in accordance with his demands is always illegal under German Criminal Code regarding mercy killing. However, assisting with suicide by, for example, providing poison or a weapon, is generally legal since suicide itself is legal.
Assisted suicide is illegal. The populace has no interest in what is physician assisted suicide nor assisted suicide facts.
After failing to get royal assent for legalizing euthanasia and suicide with assistance, in December 2008 Luxembourg’s parliament amended the constitution to remove the power from the monarch. Both rights were legalized in Luxembourg in April, 2009.
- The Netherlands
Doctor assisted suicide is legal under the same assisted suicide laws as euthanasia.
- New Zealand
Assisted suicide is illegal in New Zealand.
- South Africa
South Africa is struggling over legalizing euthanasia due largely to lack of sufficient doctors or health care pervading most of the country that could perform the service if allowed.
It is illegal to assist a patient in dying in some cases yet there are others where there is no offence committed. In order to avoid conviction, the person has to prove that the deceased had full capacity and understanding of what she or he was doing, and the deceased must perform the act himself or herself, not the person assisting.
Conversely, non-Swiss can go to Switzerland and obtain services of the Dignitas Clinic for euthanasia.
- United Kingdom
England and Wales, Northern Ireland
Deliberately assisting a suicide is illegal. A Bill on the topic will undergo assisted suicide debate this year, 2014.
The Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill was initiated on 13 November 2013 by the late Margo McDonald, MSP and is still in government progression this date, 2014.
- United States
U.S. states where physician-assisted suicide is legal, although with restrictions, are Oregon, Washington, Vermont, New Mexico and Montana. The state of Oregon has been swinging for and against repeatedly in its legislation, and New Mexico authorities are considering taking their legalization into appellate court. The assisted suicide statistics reveal that within the first year after legalization, states received over 1,000 documents to undergo suicide that is assisted, and approximately 750 such suicides were performed.
Physician Assisted Suicide Pros and Cons
- Pros and Cons of Assisted Suicide
Everyone in this day and time has experienced the pain and anguished suffering by a loved one (or one’s own self) enduring a non-curable debilitating disease or tragic result of an incredibly disabling accident. Today physicians and hospitals within predominantly Christian countries find more healthy and sound persons executing Living Wills wherein they stipulate no medical heroics if they are permanently disabled and suffering with no treatment or cure. The devastating effect of a world of medicine that is able to prolong life under the most horrendous situations is well known to most of the populace. Therefore the entering of many thesis and petitions regarding the human treatment of man has been made part of governmental and statutory procedures throughout the Christian world. Whenever the voting population has been given the authority, suicide with assistance has been approved, demonstrating that the overwhelming opinion of most is that undue suffering is endured and patients should have the right to die with dignity. It is the governmental authorities who choose to err on the side of caution to preclude any possible future abuse of the patient’s right to die with dignity.
- Negative Reactions and Opponents to Assisted Suicide on any Circumstance
Because assisted suicide and euthanasia constitute deliberate killing a person, they break the fundamental Buddhist law of never killing a living being. Suicide is deemed uncompassionate because it causes grief to others and deprives spiritual development. Suicide that is assisted is also uncompassionate because death will not relieve suffering, but postpone it all to the next life. The perpetrator will received negative karma and suffering in their next life.
Christianity – Slippery Slope Argument
Many professions oppose PAS due to the detrimental effects that the procedure can have with vulnerable persons. This is known as the “slippery slope”. This argument states once PAS is initiated for terminally ill it will continue to others, namely the disabled, and may eventually begin to be used by those persons feeling unworthy based on socioeconomic status. There is also the concern of PAD without the patient’s consent; yet studies claim evidence that legalization of physician-assisted suicide might actually decrease involuntary euthanasia.
Muslim (Islamic) View
Under Islamic jurisprudence, any form of euthanasia is islamically forbidden for it encompasses a positive role on the part of the physician to end the life of the patient and hasten his death via lethal injection, electric shock, a sharp weapon or any other way. This is an act of killing, and, killing is a major sin and thus forbidden in Islam, the religion of pure mercy.”
Jewish View of Euthanasia or Physician Assisted Suicide
Ohr Somayach Tanenbaum College, based in Jerusalem, wrote an article titled “Ask! – Your Jewish Information Resource: The Jewish View on Euthanasia“:
“Jewish law forbids euthanasia in all forms, and is considered an act of homicide. The life of a person is not ‘his’ – rather, it belongs to the One who granted that life. It may be therefore be reclaimed only by the true Owner of that life. Despite one’s noble intentions, an act of mercy-killing is flagrant intervention into a domain that transcends this world.”
Prejudices against Disabled Feared
Disabled people may be prejudicially enacted with PAD for end-of-life care. For example, ‘do not resuscitate’ orders are more frequently issued for those who become hospitalized and suffer disabilities. Also, many victims of lifelong disabilities suffer from “burn out” due to a life experience of intolerance and prejudice. Individuals suffering “burn out” are more likely to end their fight for life prematurely.
Assisted Suicide, Euthanasia and Physician Assisted Suicide Differs from Patient Refusal of Treatment
“Euthanasia” is a word coined from the Greek language “eu” by Francis Bacon to refer to easy, painless death. It now means the active causing of death through injection of a lethal medication. Euthanasia greatly differs from assisted suicide and the patient self-administering a lethal dose of a compound, usually prescribed by a physician who knows the patient intends to die.
A patient’s right to refuse or withdraw from unwanted treatment even if that refusal or withdrawal may cause death is not in any form assisted suicide or euthanasia. The right to refuse or withdraw from unwanted treatment is based on informed consent principle at the heart of medicine: It is the right of every patient, whether terminally ill or not, and has nothing to do with hastening death.
The difference between the two was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case, Vacco v. Quill . The euthanasia advocates invoked the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, arguing patients who were denied euthanasia were not given the same rights to hasten death as patients who could withdraw from life support. The Supreme Court rejected their contention.
The global stance will never be unified on the subject of euthanasia or its relatives, assisted suicide and physician assisted suicide. Each culture, however, must make a definitive stand on moral and ethical principles and the humane treatment of all living beings. There will be a myriad of debates over such a passionate subject before each culture has satisfied its own standing in humanity.