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There are a number of different types of assisted suicide laws and, in general, they either explicitly make assisted suicide legal or illegal or fail to address the issue and leave it to the purview of other statutes. For example, some countries or states within a country specifically indicate that assisted suicide is illegal and establish penalties for those convicted of such crimes. In a few countries and parts of countries, assisted suicide is clearly indicated as being legal under certain parameters, and these are clearly delineated by the laws of those areas. Other countries do not have clear assisted suicide laws and, in those regions, there are typically court cases that establish precedent for prosecution or acceptance of assisted suicide.
Assisted suicide is the practice in which a person who wishes to die, often due to long-term illness or protracted suffering, is assisted by a physician or friend in ending his or her own life. As may be expected, assisted suicide laws are typically fairly complex and are often the subject of heated debates and controversy both for citizens of a country and those outside the country. Most countries either have laws that explicitly indicate assisted suicide as illegal or have past instances in which assisted suicide cases have been prosecuted under other statutes.
In many European countries, for example, there are no assisted suicide laws clearly making the act illegal, however, those who might assist others in suicide could still be charged with a crime. Depending on the country, someone could be charged with being an accessory to manslaughter or murder, or charged with failing to help someone who was in danger. While these are often minor offenses and may not lead to prison time, they still make the practice of assisted suicide effectively illegal. These laws can, of course, change at any given time, but as of 2010, only a few countries including Switzerland, Belgium, and the Netherlands had assisted suicide laws making the act legal.
In these countries, however, the assisted suicide laws often indicate that only a physician can perform the act or require that the person dying write a letter of intent to clear the name of whoever assists him or her. There are a few states in the US that have assisted suicide laws making it legal, including Oregon and Washington. In some other states, there have also been court cases in which a person accused of assisted suicide as a crime was cleared of charges even though he or she did commit the act, effectively setting precedent for decriminalizing the act. Most states in the US, however, have assisted suicide laws that explicitly indicate the act as a crime or criminalize assisted suicide under common law.