Paris – Portugal’s parliament has recently passed a law allowing medically assisted dying, putting the Catholic-majority country on course to become the fourth in Europe to legalise euthanasia.
Before coming into force the bill must first be signed into law by President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, a staunch Catholic and conservative who was re-elected only last weekend.
Here is a round-up of the situation in Europe.
– Fully legal –
The Netherlands has legalised active and direct euthanasia since April 2002. Requested administration of a drug in lethal doses is authorised if patients make the request while lucid.
They must also be experiencing unbearable suffering from a condition diagnosed as incurable by at least two doctors.
In 2020, the country’s highest court ruled that doctors will be able to conduct assisted suicides on patients with severe dementia without fear of prosecution, even if the patient no longer expressed an explicit death wish.
The Netherlands also moved towards making euthanasia legal for terminally-ill children aged between one and 12.
Belgium lifted restrictions on euthanasia in 2002 for patients facing constant, unbearable and untreatable physical or psychological suffering.
They must be aged 18 or over and request termination of life in a voluntary, deliberated and repeated manner free from coercion.
In 2014, Belgium became the first country to authorise children to request euthanasia if they suffer a terminal disease and understand the consequences of the act.
In Luxembourg, a text legalising euthanasia in certain terminal cases was approved in 2009. It excludes minors.
Differences in euthanasia laws across Europe
– Swiss exception –
Switzerland is one of the rare countries that allows assisted suicide with patients administering a lethal dose of medication themselves. It does not allow active, direct euthanasia by a third party but tolerates the provision of substances to relieve suffering, even if death is a possible side-effect.
– Other ways of assisted death –
Spain’s parliament voted in 2020 to approve a bill that will allow euthanasia under strict conditions despite fierce opposition from the Catholic church and conservative parties. It still faces a vote in the Senate early in 2021.
Italy’s Constitutional Court ruled in 2019 it was not always a crime to help someone in “intolerable suffering” commit suicide. Parliament is set to debate a change in the law banning the practice.
The halting of medical procedures that maintain life, called passive euthanasia, is also tolerated.
In France, a 2005 law legalises passive euthanasia as a “right to die”. A 2016 law allows doctors to couple this with “deep and continuous sedation” for terminally ill patients, while keeping euthanasia and assisted suicide illegal.
Sweden authorised passive euthanasia in 2010.
Britain has allowed medical personnel to halt life-preserving treatment in certain cases since 2002. Prosecution of those who have helped a close relative die, after clearly expressing the desire to end their lives, has receded since 2010.
In Austria and Germany passive euthanasia is permitted if requested by the patient.
Austria’s constitutional court ruled in October the country was violating fundamental rights in ruling assisted suicide illegal and ordered the government to lift the ban in 2021.
Since 1992 Denmark has allowed people to file written refusal of excessive treatment in dire situations, with the document held in a centralised register.
In Norway, passive euthanasia is permitted if requested by the patient or by a relative, if the patient is unconscious.
In Hungary people with incurable diseases can refuse treatment.
It is also legal to end treatment of terminally ill people in Lithuania and Latvia.