This week, doctors in Belgium sparked controversy after granting a 24-year-old woman who suffers from severe depression the right to die. While euthanasia has been legal in Belgium since 2002, in the U.S. it's illegal. Assisted suicide, however, is either legal, decriminalized, or up for debate in a handful of states.
So could someone potentially request an assisted suicide due to depression in the U.S.?
Short answer: no.
Belgium has the most liberal euthanasia laws in the world. Case in point, in February of 2014, they removed the age restriction, stating that in cases of “unbearable and irreversible suffering,” a child can request euthanasia if s/he can demonstrate they fully comprehend their choice. While that law has yet to be put into practice (no child has been euthanized since the law was passed), people have successfully undergone physician-assisted-suicide due to depression before. (Over at PBS, Megan Thompson details the decision and the death of a Belgian woman who suffered from depression.)
However, in the U.S., things are a little bit more clear cut. First of all, euthanasia—where a doctor fulfills the action (like administering an injection) to end the patient’s life—is illegal. Assisted suicide—when a physician can provide the means for death in the form of prescribed medication, but the patient must administer it to him or herself—is up to individual states. It’s only fully legal in Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. It is decriminalized in Montana (meaning physician-assisted suicide isn’t a right guaranteed by the state, but it’s also not against public policy), and up for review in California, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Maryland.
But there are specific stipulations when it comes to the right to die with dignity, stipulations that exclude depression. In order to be eligible for assisted suicide, a patient must be 1) at least 18 years old, 2) a resident of a state where it’s legal, 3) capable of “making and communicating health care decisions for him/herself,” and 4) diagnosed with a terminal illness and given six months or less to live. Finally, injections are expressly forbidden—the medication must be ingested.
The law also states that if one of the two physicians required to sign off on the suicide deems that the patient has impaired judgment, the patient must be referred for psychological examination.
Not only is mental illness not considered a terminal illness, but the law stipulates that depression and other mental illnesses are a form of judgment impairment, which further renders the patient ineligible.
Death with Dignity, a non-profit organization that has led the right to assisted suicide initiative in the U.S., doesn't comment on international cases.