February 6, 2015 / 7:09 PM / in 3 years

Canada joins handful of countries, U.S. states in allowing assisted suicide

(Reuters) - A Supreme Court of Canada ruling on Friday clears the way for physician-assisted suicide and puts the country in the company of a handful of Western nations and U.S. states that allow assisted suicide or euthanasia for some people who are terminally ill or have intolerable suffering:

COUNTRIES

BELGIUM - Legalized euthanasia in 2002. It has pioneered legalization of euthanasia beyond terminal illness to include those suffering unbearable mental pain. Last year, it became the first country to allow euthanasia for terminally ill children at any age, though application for minors is limited to those about to die.

The word euthanasia is usually used to describe cases where a doctor actually administers a drug to end a patient’s life. In physician-assisted suicide, a doctor prescribes a lethal drug but patients must administer it themselves.

COLOMBIA - Euthanasia is a crime but it carries a shorter sentence than homicide. The country’s top court has ruled that a doctor who helps a consenting, terminally ill patient end his or her life cannot be prosecuted for euthanasia. It urged legislation be created.

LUXEMBOURG - Legalized euthanasia and assisted suicide for adults in 2008. Patients must have a terminal illness or be experiencing constant and unbearable suffering with no prospect of improvement.

THE NETHERLANDS - Doctors can perform euthanasia or prescribe a lethal drug for patients to administer themselves if they are experiencing “unbearable suffering”. Patients must make a voluntary, well-considered request to die. Minors can request euthanasia from the age of 12, but parents must consent until they are 16.

SWITZERLAND - Has allowed assisted suicide since the 1940s, including for people who do not have a terminal illness, and for non-citizens. Some foreigners travel to Switzerland to commit suicide, a phenomenon dubbed “suicide tourism”.

U.S. STATES

MONTANA - The state’s top court ruled in 2009 that there was nothing in state law that prevented people from seeking physician-assisted suicide. The Montana Death with Dignity Act was introduced on Jan. 21, 2015.

OREGON - Became the first U.S. state to legalize assisted suicide in 1997 after a ballot measure. The Supreme Court upheld the move in 2006. Terminally ill adults can request lethal medications from doctors, but must administer the drugs themselves.

VERMONT - Passed a law in 2013 to end penalties for doctors who prescribe medication to terminally ill patients seeking to end their own lives. Patients must administer the drugs themselves.

WASHINGTON - The state’s Death with Dignity Act went into effect in 2009. Terminally ill adults with less than six months to live can request a lethal dose of medication from a doctor.

Sources: Reuters reports and government websites

Reporting by Allison Martell; Editing by Peter Galloway

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