In most countries, the criminalization of euthanasia means that doctors will be prosecuted for assisting terminally ill patients to commit suicide.
In the USA, it is legal for a patient to refuse medical treatment and order his life support system stopped, but it is not legal throughout the country to take a lethal dose of a medical treatment. Thus suicide by omission is legal, but by commission is generally not.
In one American state where euthanasia is legal, an ill adult of sound mind with less than 6 months to live can request a prescription of legal drugs. In the Netherlands, doctors must limit euthanasia to the terminally ill who suffer irremediable pain and who have explicitly and frequently asked for death while lucid. A second physician with no ties to the primary doctor or the patient must give an opinion about granting permission, and the death must be reported to the justice officials along with detailed information about it.
Where euthanasia is permitted in the USA, a doctor may write the prescription, but not administer the drugs. In the Netherlands in 1995, the law was tightened to ensure that, whenever possible, the patient should administer the lethal drugs himself.
In the USA, the lethal drugs may be purchased via a state funded medical assistance plan by poor people, a law which is viewed as controversial.
The legality of assisting a voluntary death has been debated publicly in the USA since at least 1890. Euthanasia has been practised in the Netherlands since at least 1973, although the first guidelines for legalizing it were written in 1984. In 1995 in Britain, a Mental Incapacity Bill was prepared with the intention of legalizing euthanasia. In Australia, euthanasia was legalized in 1996, four patients killed themselves, and in 1997 euthanasia was re-criminalized.
67% of Americans think that terminally ill people in pain who express the wish to die should be allowed to do so. However, as of 1997, 35 of 50 states had laws against doctor-assisted suicide.