Right to die: terminal divide in state of euthanasia in Europe

Euthenasia, from the Greek word for a ‘good death’, carries within it the concept  of the ‘right to die’. It is as much about a dignified end to life, as it is about reducing pain and discomfort in people suffering from terminal illness before the end. The recent death of 29-year-old American terminal brain cancer sufferer Brittany Maynard is a case in point. Maynard caused controversy worldwide when she chose to end her life on November 1, rather than suffer an undignified, painful death from the disease. Yet the right to death with dignity is a divisive issue worldwide, as this list of clashing national laws on euthanasia in Europe demonstrates. It comes in the wake of French legislation that aims to ease restrictions on doctor-assisted deaths. MS

euthenasiaFrom Agence France-Presse – French legislation has been introduced to ease restrictions on doctor-assisted death risks further diversifying the range of clashing national laws on euthenasia across Europe.

The following  is a round-up of the state of current euthanasia regulations in Europe.


The Netherlands – active, direct euthanasia has been legal since April 2002. Requested administration of a drug in lethal doses is authorised if patients make the request while fully mentally lucid. They must also endure unbearable and endless suffering from a condition diagnosed as incurable by at least two doctors. The Netherlands has also authorised euthanasia for children younger than 12 under strict conditions.

Belgium – lifted restrictions on euthanasia in September 2002 for patients facing constant, unbearable and untreatable physical or psychic suffering; aged 18 or over; and who request termination of life in a voluntary, deliberated and repeated manner free from coercion. Provisions for doctor-assisted death in cases that meet those criteria may also be stipulated in “living wills” written by healthy people before they fall ill, and which remain valid for five years. In February 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.

Luxembourg –  a text legalising euthanasia in certain terminal cases was approved in March 2009. It excludes minors.


Switzerland – one of the rare countries that allows assisted suicide by patients administering a lethal dose of medication themselves. Switzerland 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. Passive euthanasia, or the halting of medical procedures that maintain life, is also tolerated.

France –  a 2005 law acknowledges a “right to die” in connection with procedures to ease suffering. A doctor can prescribe pain killers even if their use under certain conditions may result in death, provided the patient is in an advanced stage of an incurable disease.

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.

Austria and Germany – passive euthanasia is permitted if the patient has requested it.

Denmark – since 1992, has allowed patients to file previously written refusal of excessive treatment in dire situations, with the document held in a centralised register.

Norway – passive euthanasia is permitted if requested by the patient, or by a relative if the patient is unconscious.

Hungary, Spain and the Czech Republic – people with incurable diseases can refuse treatment.

Portugal –  active and passive euthanasia is not legal, but an ethical council has approved the halting of treatment in certain cases.


Italy, Romania, Greece, Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Poland, and Ireland – euthanasia is forbidden, and considered homicide. Punishment can range from 14 and 15 years in prison in Ireland and Italy respectively, to relatively light sentences in Croatia. – © 1994-2014 Agence France-Presse

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