Discussing suicide legislation is a tricky subject because “suicide” itself is a very polarizing topic. There are typically people that believe it is “wrong” to commit suicide because the act is inherently selfish and leaves the victim’s family (or survivors) to deal with distress. Additionally some view the act of killing oneself as being “sinful” or against a certain set of religious beliefs.
Then there are individuals who believe that everyone should have the freedom to commit suicide and take their own life if they are living in a constant state of pain and suffering. Typically the individuals that are “pro-choice” on the topic of suicide are people that understand what it’s like to deal with the everyday pain of a chronic illness or they have seen someone they know struggle with a certain disease or illness.
In most cases, the causes of suicide are related to depression. In 90% of cases, it was found that the person who ended up committing suicide did so as a result of untreated depression. In most assisted-suicides, people are simply trying to help alleviate another person of chronic suffering associated with terminal illnesses. Although most people do not consider the legality of “suicide,” failed attempts and/or assistance in the process could get you into legal trouble.
Is suicide illegal?
In many places throughout the world, attempting suicide or even following through with the act is considered a crime. So how can suicide possibly be illegal if you are dead, how are you still affected by law? In the event that someone commits suicide, (in some cases) the person’s property can be seized by the government and bills for treatment of the corpse can be sent to the person’s survivors or living family members.
Additionally in some countries (e.g. North Korea), a surviving family may be ostracized by the government. It should also be noted that in some countries, if you attempt suicide and fail, you could be criminalized. Most legal repercussions have been created out of religion. For example, in many religions, the act is viewed as being offensive or a “sin.”
Is assisted suicide illegal?
In many countries it is also a crime to assist others, whether it be directly or indirectly with the act of suicide. In some cases even encouraging the act of suicide is viewed as a crime. Only under strict legal conditions is assisted suicide approved – and usually this involves an experienced physician.
Suicide Laws: By Country
Below are laws related to the act of suicide as well as “assisted-suicide” throughout various countries.
United States: In the past, many states had laws that regarded the act of suicide as a felony, but these laws were seldom enforced. In the 1980s, 30 out of 50 United States has no laws opposing suicide or attempting suicide. With that said, all 50 states had laws stating that assisted suicide is a felony. Currently there is no law against the act of committing suicide in the United States.
In some cases though, suicide is considered “common law crime” unless the victim can be proven to have been of “unsound mind.” Most lawsuits regarding suicide happen when the person is under supervision of a jail or hospital and the victim’s family sues these institutions for negligence. Physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill is legal in Oregon and Washington.
In cases of physician-assisted suicide, the patient must have less than 6 months to live, be of sound mind, make a request vocally and on paper, have it approved by multiple physicians, and then wait 15 days, followed by another request. In the state of California, all medical facilities are required to send all suicidal people in for evaluation and treatment.
- Australia: In the state of Victoria, suicide itself is not considered a crime. However if a suicide pact is made and one party survives, they could be charged with manslaughter. Additionally it is a crime to assist others in suicide and the law allows others to use whatever force deemed necessary to prevent another person from committing suicide.
- Belgium: In 2002, the “Euthanasia” Act” made euthanasia legal, but assisted suicide was deemed illegal. In 2006, changes were made to euthanasia law making it legal under certain regulations. These conditions included: patient must be an adult and in “futile medical condition” with “physical or mental suffering” that cannot be remedied. Patients must also have a long-standing history with the physician that plans on being part of the process. Additionally there must be several requests that are reviewed by a commission and approved by multiple physicians before the act can take place.
- Canada: In 1972, the act of suicide was removed as being a criminal action. In 1993, a law was created that prohibited any form of assisted suicide. There has been some controversy in recent years surrounding the ban of physician-assisted suicide. Many disabled individuals feel as though they should have a right to assisted suicide under Canadian law. Additionally anyone who compels or entices a person to commit suicide is subject to criminal penalty regardless of whether the individual carries through with the act. In 2014, physician-assisted suicide became legal only in the province of Quebec.
- China: Any form of assisted-suicide, including with assistance from a physician is considered illegal in China. Many individuals have protested this law and demanded some sort of change as a result of the pain and suffering associated with terminal illnesses.
- Colombia: In this country, physician-assisted suicide is considered legal for terminally ill patients. This law was taken to court, but upheld with a 6 to 3 ruling. Although physician-assisted suicide is legal here, there aren’t any specific rules or regulations for physicians and patients to follow.
- Denmark: Assisted-suicide of all forms is considered illegal and is viewed as a manslaughter crime. This is punishable of up to 3 years in prison.
- England: All laws against suicide were kept in place until 1961. They were originally thought to be offensive to God and the Crown of the country. With the passing of the Suicide Act in 1961, suicide was no longer considered a crime. However, this act states that it is considered an offense to assist in a suicide. It is thought that the assisted suicide laws in this country may be revised.
- Estonia: The act of suicide is legal here as well as assisted-suicide.
- Finland: There is nothing in Finnish criminal law regarding assisted-suicide. In the event that assisted-suicide is rightfully justified, no action is taken against the assistant. Finnish physicians are not known to partake in assisted-suicide or euthanasia.
- France: All forms of assisted-suicide are considered illegal in France and anyone aiding in a suicide can be arrested. In 2013 it was stated that the country will be holding a debate on the issue, and many polls demonstrate overwhelming support in support of an assisted-suicide law. France also has a ban on all suicide-related publications.
- Germany: Suicide itself is considered legal in this country. Assisting with a suicide by providing materials is also considered legal here. However, killing someone to satisfy their demands is illegal. Encouraging another person to commit suicide is viewed as irrelevant in this country. Only when a suicidal person is not acting out of “free will” (i.e. manipulated will) is assistance punishable as a homicide. The person is not believed to have free will when: under 14, dealing with mental illness, or acting as result of an emergency. It should also be noted that if someone assists in suicide, and the person who wants to die is still alive (unconscious), they must make an effort to save the person or it could be viewed as a criminal offense. Additionally people who are in positions of “warrantor” such as: doctors, police officers, parents, etc. are responsible for making efforts to prevent suicides. If they do not make these efforts, they could be charged with “homicide by omission.”
- Hungary: This country has among the highest rates of suicide in the world. Assisted-suicide or attempted suicide carries a punishment of imprisonment for up to 5 years. Euthanasia by physicians is also regarded as an illegal activity.
- Iceland: Assisted-suicide is illegal in this country and there is no desire to change these laws.
- India: Any attempted suicide in this country is punishable by law. If a person attempts to commit suicide here, they can be punished with imprisonment of up to 1 year as well as fines. Since the suicide rate in India is above average compared to other countries, many citizens are pushing for changes in legislation.
- Ireland: In this country, any attempted suicide is not considered a criminal offense. Under Irish legislation, any form of self-harm is not considered a suicide attempt. Suicide was revoked from illegal status in this country in 1993. Assisted suicide and euthanasia are illegal, but residents are fighting this legislation.
- Japan: Committing suicide is considered illegal, but it is not punishable. Assisted-suicide is considered illegal and anyone found assisting in suicide can be legally punished. There have been instances in which Japan approved medical voluntary euthanasia, but these cases are few and far between, and must be approved by a high court.
- Luxembourg: Suicide itself is considered legal and assisted-suicide was made legal in 2009. Despite that fact, people can be legally penalized for not assisting someone else in danger. Euthanasia, however, is considered illegal in his country.
- Netherlands: In the Netherlands, it is acceptable to be present and provide moral support during someone’s suicide. Supplying suicide information regarding techniques is also not illegal. With that said, it is considered a crime to participate in the preparation of a person’s execution. This means that you are not allowed to supply any suicide supplies (e.g. substance or tools) or give instructions as to how they can be used. Physician-assisted suicide is not punishable if the physician uses proper care and the “Termination of Life on Request and Assisted Suicide Act” from 2002. Physicians involved in assisted-suicide are required to report euthanasia to review committees.
- New Zealand: This country has no laws against the act of suicide in the event that it is non-assisted (i.e. personal). Euthanasia is considered illegal here, despite that multiple attempts to pass legislation supporting it. Under the New Zealand Crimes Act of 1961, it is illegal to assist someone with suicide.
- North Korea: This is a country in which suicide rates are considerably lower than average. It is thought that the reason suicide rates are low is due to the burden suicide would have on a person’s family. It is thought that if someone commits suicide, it is possible for the government to purge or ostracize the rest of that person’s family and relatives. In this country there is strict social pressure and an unforgiving nature surrounding suicide.
- Norway: Attempting or committing suicide is not illegal in this country.
- Romania: In this country, the act of suicide is legal. However if you assist someone in suicide by encouraging them or helping set it up, this is considered a criminal offense. In the event that you assist in a suicide, you could face up to 10 years in prison.
- Russia: Anyone who is suicidal can be put into a psychiatric hospital in this country. In Russia, if you encourage someone to commit suicide by humiliating them, treating them cruelly, or by making threats, you could end up in prison for up to 5 years. Federal law in this country requires censoring information about suicide and methods on the internet. Even websites that contain suicide jokes are censored in Russia. The rate of teenage suicides in this country is 3x greater than the world average.
- Scotland: If someone commits suicide by themselves, it is not considered a criminal offense. In some cases, committing suicide may be considered a “breach of the peace” if it is not done privately. Under Scottish law, any individual who assists another in the act of suicide could be charged with murder, homicide, or nothing – depending on the case.
- Singapore: Anyone who even attempts suicide can be sent to prison for up to a full year.
- South Africa: Attempting or committing suicide is not considered a crime in this country. From 1886 to 1968 it was illegal, but this legislation no longer stands. Assisted-suicide is still illegal in this country, but there is some thought that it may eventually be legalized.
- Switzerland: Assisted-suicide is considered legal in this country, but there are specific rules that must be followed. By law, if a person encourages (or requests) someone to commit suicide for “selfish reasons” or assists them in the process, whether successful or attempted, the person who provoked the suicide can be imprisoned for up to 5 years. To avoid this sentence, a person must prove that the victim was of sound mind and that they were assisting with good intentions to help relieve “suffering.” This is the only country that allows foreigners to take advantage of assisted-suicide laws.
Suicide Debate: Should suicide be illegal? What about assisted-suicide?
If you have some thoughts to share on the legality of suicide or assisted-suicide in a particular country or in general, feel free to post in the comments section below. Everyone has different opinions as to whether people should have the freedom to take their own life or whether they should be required to live it out. Some would argue that assisted-suicide for people with treatment-resistant severe mental illness should be considered legal, what do you think?
I tend to lean towards the current legislation in place regarding assisted suicide for the terminally ill. People with severe diseases that have less than 6 months to live as-is should be allowed to end their life on their own terms if suffering is unbearable. At the end of the day, evaluating how much pain and suffering a person is in is completely subjective. You never really know how a certain ailment, illness, disease, or disorder is affecting someone’s life and how much someone is struggling.
Many people think that the act of suicide is “selfish” because it really devastates the victim’s family and other survivors. However, on the other side of the coin, others would argue that it is selfish for others to force someone to stay alive with their level of suffering. What do you think about current laws? Should they be changed?