Comparing the Decriminalisation of Assisted Dying in Europe

New research by Jessica Krüger, MPhil (Cantab) examines the influence of public and health-care professionals’ opinions on assisted dying legislation in Europe

Research & Faculty |

Suicide itself is no longer a crime anywhere in Europe. The same, however, cannot be said about assisting others in realising their wish to die. For example, euthanasia and/or assisted suicide constitute crimes in England, Italy, Germany or France, with punishments of up to 30 years in prison, while euthanasia and assisted suicide have been lawful in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg for at least 20 years. In many countries, among them Germany, Italy and England, new legislation is currently being debated.

Notwithstanding the salience and timeliness of the ongoing debate, the reasons for these surprisingly different levels of criminalisation are not yet well-understood. Previous studies focusing on one possible explanation – the influence of public opinions and health-care professional judgement – have reached conflicting conclusions.

In her study “Comparing the Decriminalisation of Assisted Dying in Europe”, which has just been published online as an advance article in the European Journal of Health Law, Jessica Krüger seeks to enhance our understanding of how public and health-care professionals’ opinions shape assisted dying legislation in Europe. To that end, opinion data on the attitudes of the general public as well as health-care professionals in seven European countries (Germany, France, England & Wales, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Switzerland) have been systematically collected, covering the period from 1990 until 2021.

This dataset, consisting of more than 370 opinion value results from over 160 publications, was then compared to the legal situation in the respective countries. As a result, her study provides well-founded and detailed new insights into the attitudes of health-care professionals and the general public, and how both are reflected in the law – or how they are not.

The article is based on research Jessica has undertaken in 2020-2021 during an MPhil in Criminological Research at the University of Cambridge’s renowned Institute of Criminology, which has awarded her the Institute’s 2021 Manuel López-Rey Graduate Prize. Jessica is now a PhD candidate at the Chair of Criminal Law II (Professor Dr. Karsten Gaede) at Bucerius Law School.