Which Countries Have Legalized Euthanasia?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

Euthanasia and the related topic of physician-assisted suicide are extremely controversial moral and legal issues throughout the world. While proponents suggest that a painless death may be preferable to some people that have a prolonged, eventually fatal illness or permanently debilitating condition, opponents cite the intrinsic value of life and the possibility that legalizing euthanasia could lead to severe misuse by doctors. The debate on the ethics behind euthanasia will likely never be settled, as few moral debates ever return a universal agreement. As of 2010, a few countries have laws allowing legalized euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, including Albania, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, as well as some US states. Some other countries, including Japan and Columbia, have contradictory laws and court precedent on the issue.

Albania legalized euthanasia in 1999.
Albania legalized euthanasia in 1999.

It is important to understand the difference between euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide when discussing the legal status internationally. Physician assisted suicide refers to a situation in which a doctor may prescribe lethal drugs but the patient is responsible for taking them. Euthanasia, on the other hand, is when a health professional intentionally gives a patient a lethal dose in order to end the patient's life. Not all countries outlaw both forms; Germany has had legal physician-assisted suicide since the 18th century, but direct euthanasia is illegal.

Belgium legalized euthanasia in the early 21st century.
Belgium legalized euthanasia in the early 21st century.

Albania was one of the first European nations to allow legalized euthanasia in 1999. Passive euthanasia, where the patient is unable to give consent due to a condition like a coma, is also legal given the agreement of three family members. The law has remained controversial within the country, however, largely due to the major influence of the Catholic Church in Albania.

The Netherlands legalized euthanasia at the beginning of the 21st century.
The Netherlands legalized euthanasia at the beginning of the 21st century.

Belgium and the Netherlands both legalized euthanasia in the early 21st century. Both countries had a long, if informal, rule of not legally prosecuting doctors who provided euthanasia services to terminally ill patients. By instating a legalized policy, proponents suggested that better medical records could be kept and that physicians would be required to adhere to certain standards of care when helping patients commit suicide.

Luxembourg legalized euthanasia in 2008.
Luxembourg legalized euthanasia in 2008.

Luxembourg passed legalized euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide laws in 2008. The country at the time was under the governance of a conservative Christian prime minister, which resulted in an extremely close vote on the measure. According to the new law, patients seeking aid with suicide must get consent from two doctors and have a terminal or chronic debilitating illness.

With such a delicate issue, some countries have left legal status of the issue extremely unclear. Columbia's highest court passed a legalized euthanasia law in 1997, but the decision has never been ratified by Columbia's Congress. In Japan, despite a clear law against euthanasia, a significant court decision in 1962 laid out six criteria that a physician must meet to perform the service for a patient legally.

It is important to understand the difference between euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide when discussing the legal status internationally.
It is important to understand the difference between euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide when discussing the legal status internationally.
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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Discussion Comments


I am 100% in favor of euthanasia or physician assisted suicide. I am actively researching the two of these to see what is best for me. Alzheimer's is rampant on my maternal grandmother's side. I believe that we continue from one life to another and I have no intention of lying around for years, losing my mental faculties and causing family members to have to use all their savings and investments. That is unconscionable in my mind. If I am a drain on my family and society, I want to go silently into the ethereal realms to live again in another life. I am very comfortable with my point of view and desire to leave this life with dignity.


Physician assisted suicide and legal euthanasia are sensitive issues, no matter which perspective is used.

However, being a person who is not suffering from a life threatening illness, I am on a quest to locate a destination where I can register (or enroll) to terminate my life.

For most individuals, even those closest to me, this desire is not understood. I am an educated individual, non drug user, non alcohol drinker, non smoker, financially stable, good family support, etc. However, every day is a struggle to find happiness, joy, and love -- whether from within my own self, or from an outside source. I have spent the last three decades in a state where these positive feelings simply have not existed. I have mustered through life, with success, but simply find no joy, satisfaction or fulfillment.

Am I suffering from a life ending illness? No. Are there other options available? Sure. Some would say I am suffering from depression, but I am not in a state of despair or darkness where I find I cannot escape. I am simply tired. Please do not misinterpret my meaning because I am grateful for what I have accomplished in my lifetime and for the life experiences acquired to date. Why should it not be my choice to end my life on this plane of existence?

There are multiple ways I could employ to complete the task. I'm not in a hurry. However, I am researching which would be the most humane for my purposes. A lethal injection aided by a professional seems like the ideal choice for me. A second choice would be self administered inhalation of an inert gas such as nitrogen or helium. A more gruesome, less desirable, and possibly painful option would be a gunshot to the head (or a beheading via guillotine).

It is important for readers to understand that this is not a temporary state where tomorrow I will feel better. No, this has been an ongoing state for 35 years. Today I was able to sit in the park, listen to some live music, look at the trees and blue sky, and feel at peace. However, it does not remove the fact that if I could go to sleep tonight and not wake up I would not have any regrets.

I am still looking for a destination that could accommodate my request.


If I discover I have the beginnings of dementia/Alzheimer's or am no longer able to wipe my own backside, I would wish to die asap, before I get to the stage where I no longer know what is going on or recognize anyone or can't look after myself.

I would absolutely loathe it if I had anyone left who really cared about me, to have to visit me and watch me slowly die. Been there and done that; no thanks. It is a nightmare situation and doesn't bear thinking about, as far as I'm concerned. Give me death please.


Human life is sacred; destroying it through euthanasia is violating our autonomy.


KoiwiGal's slippery slope is a reality. I just read in the newspaper that Belgium extended their euthanasia law to children under 18 years of age.


Euthanasia sounds exactly like murder to me. If the patient suddenly loses consciousness and becomes comatose, the family decides whether they want to kill them of not. But since the patient isn't asked for his or her own opinion and they can't answer because they are in coma, the patient might sometimes be killed without them even knowing that they will be killed or maybe they didn't want to die.


@browncoat - The problem is that it can be a slippery slope, no matter what people say. There are a lot of people out there who think they might want to commit suicide, for whatever reason, who might change their mind tomorrow. And that includes people who are sick or in pain.

And they aren't even the ones I'm worried about. I've seen too many families take animals to the vet to put them down because they just didn't want to take care of them any longer.

I know we think it will never happen, but I can imagine people deciding that their grandmother is just too much to take care of as well, and that she'd be better off if she just passed away already.

The legalization of euthanasia is fairly inevitable, I think, but we need to think very carefully about how we are going to let it work so that vulnerable people aren't killed just because it's easier to do it that way.


@indigomoth - I don't like the idea either, but I also think it should be a personal choice and that euthanasia should be legal. There is just too much technology that can keep people alive these days. People can continue to live in huge amounts of pain and suffering, even though their ancestors would never have been able to tolerate it.

And I don't think I can really comprehend how terrible it is to be in that situation unless I'm actually in it. So I think people should be able to make up their own minds.


I hate the idea of euthanasia, particularly if it is done for any reason without consent. I don't even really like the idea of mercy killing animals. Life is such a precious gift. Either it's something given to us by God, or it's something that is unique and that we will only experience once.

I'd rather live in pain than end it all, since ending it all is so permanent and there might not be anything afterwards. I like existing. I like my family existing. I don't think anyone should make that choice.

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