This Morning: Eamonn interrupts Ruth during euthanasia debate
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Euthanasia is one of the most controversial and emotive topics in modern life. The practice concerns enabling health professionals to end a person’s life by painless means, as long as the patient and family consent. Express.co.uk has compiled a list of all the nations around the globe where the practice is legal in some form or other.
Portugal’s Parliament voted to legalise euthanasia for the second time in 2021 on Friday.
The revised bill aimed at fixing objections raised by the Constitutional Court was backed by 138 votes, with 84 against.
Five people abstained from voting on the bill, which clarifies the circumstances under which doctors are able to offer assistance to patients with “grave, incurable and irreversible” conditions, and therefore want to end their lives.
The vote came after constitutional judges blocked the original bill in March, claiming it was too vague.
If the law passes, Portugal will become one of a small group of countries where euthanasia is legal.
So where exactly is euthanasia legal?
Euthanasia is defined by the NHS is the act of deliberately ending a person’s life to relieve suffering.
This includes if a doctor deliberately gives a patient with a terminal illness a drug they would not otherwise need – such as sedatives or muscle relaxants with the sole aim of ending their life.
The act is illegal under English law and is, depending on the circumstances, regarded as either manslaughter or murder – the maximum penalty for which is life imprisonment.
Last month, the British Medical Association (BMA) dropped its long-standing opposition to assisted dying after a landmark vote at its annual meeting.
Overall, 49 percent of members voted in support of assisted dying, while 48 percent were opposed and three percent abstained from the vote.
In a statement, the BMA added that although the neutral stance means the union “will neither support nor oppose attempts to change the law”, it will “not be silent on the issue” of assisted dying.
The statement read: “We have a responsibility to represent our members’ interests and concerns in any future legislative proposals and will continue to engage with our members to determine their views.”
Many countries have legalised euthanasia or assisted dying, usually under very strict rules.
The countries where it is legal in some way include:
- The Netherlands
- New Zealand
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Switzerland is a leading country in the argument for euthanasia globally – currently allowing physician-assisted suicide without a minimum age requirement, diagnosis or symptom state.
An estimated 1.5 percent of all deaths in Switzerland are a result of assisted suicide.
Euthanasia is not legal in the country, but it has become renowned for its connection to the cause.
In 2018, 221 people travelled to the Swiss clinic Dignitas for assisted suicide – 24 of which came from the UK.
According to the Campaign for Dignity in Dying, a British person travels to Dignitas for help to die every eight days.
In Belgium, euthanasia and assisted suicide has no age restriction but is only available for those with a terminal illness that meets its criteria.
If a patient is not terminally ill, there is a one-month waiting period before euthanasia can be performed.
Assisted suicide and euthanasia are both legal in Luxembourg for adults, but is only for patients with an incurable condition with constant, intolerable mental or physical suffering and no prospect of improvement.
In March this year, the law on assisted dying was expanded in Canada meaning adults with serious or incurable disease, illness or disability, who are in advanced stages of decline and are suffering can seek medically assisted death.
Previously, the country had only permitted euthanasia and assisted suicide for adults suffering from “grievous and irremediable conditions” whose death is “reasonably foreseeable”.
Colombia was the first Latin American company to decriminalise euthanasia in 1997.
In July, the nation’s Constitutional Court expanded laws on the act meaning people with cases of non-terminal illnesses “provided that the patient is in intense physical or psychological suffering, resulting from bodily injury or serious and incurable illness” can now seek this avenue.
In Australia, voluntary euthanasia laws were passed in Victoria, in November 2017.
You must meet the qualifying criteria which mandates only adults with decision-making capacity, residents of Victoria, and those enduring intolerable suffering due to an illness that gives you a life expectancy of less than six months or 12 months if suffering from a neurodegenerative illness, may be eligible.
Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania have since joined Victoria in legalising voluntary assisted dying.
In September, Queensland also enacted laws to allow voluntary euthanasia.
In the USA, legally assisted dying is permitted in several states, including Oregon, Washington, Vermont, California, Colorado, Washington DC, Hawaii, New Jersey, Maine, Montana and New Mexico.
Doctors are permitted to write prescriptions for life-ending drugs, but a healthcare professional must be present when they are administered.
All of the states require a 15-day waiting period between two oral requests and a two-day waiting period between a final written request and the fulfilling of the prescription.
In France, palliative sedation is permitted, but assisted dying is not.
Palliative sedation is where someone can ask to be deeply sedated until they die.
In April 2021, a proposal to legalise assisted dying for people with incurable diseases was blocked in the French parliament.
Last year, New Zealand voted in favour of legalising euthanasia.
The laws now allow terminally ill people with less than six months to live the opportunity to choose assisted dying if approved by two doctors.
These are not currently in effect but are expected to come into force this month.
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