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Where in Europe is assisted dying legal?

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By Camille Bello
Where in Europe is assisted dying legal?
Copyright  Picture credit: Marcelo Leal

Across Europe, assisted dying is the focus of intense legal battles and controversies, with recent examples including the case of Vincent Lambert in France, or that of DJ Fabo in Italy.

But where is assisted dying legal? Euronews looks at the state of legislation in different EU countries.

What is assisted dying?

Assisted dying refers to both voluntary active euthanasia and physician-assisted death. These two types of assisted dying distinguish a difference in the degree of the doctor's involvement. Voluntary active euthanasia involves the physician playing an active role in the patient's request to die, usually by supplying an intravenous lethal substance. Physician-assisted death implies that the medical personnel provides the patient with the lethal means to kill themselves, meaning it's the patient who employs them.

What is the general picture of assisted dying in the European Union?

Only four countries approve of assisted dying as a whole: Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and more recently Germany. The first two even recognize requests from minors under strict circumstances. Switzerland allows physician-assisted death under specific scenarios but has made passive euthanasia legal.

Other countries such as Austria, Finland, and Norway allow passive euthanasia under strict circumstances. Passive euthanasia is when a patient suffers from an incurable disease and decides not to apply life-prolonging treatments, such as artificial nutrition or hydration.

It's important not to confuse passive euthanasia with withdrawing life-sustaining treatment in the person's best interests. The latter can be part of palliative care and not necessarily euthanasia.

Some countries like Spain and Portugal allow for withdrawing life-sustaining treatment in the person's best interests, but the official practices of euthanasia (passive or active) and assisted dying remain illegal.

France is another example of how fragmented the legislation is across the EU. All forms of euthanasia and assisted dying are illegal in the country but since 2016 terminally ill patients have the right to ‘continuous deep sedation’ until death.