The Right to Die: How Luxembourg Became a Front-Runner

This article was first published by Freedom Today.

The Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg is among the few countries in Europa that allows assisted suicide and euthanasia. The history behind this radical pro-freedom of agenda is intriguingly interesting.

Europe is known to have a healthy relationship to suicide: all countries (apart from Cyprus) allow suicide today. While it may seem ridiculous to enact any legislation that punishes an act that takes your life, let it be known that those laws crack down on attempted suicides as well. These rules can bring people who are suicidal, including terminally ill people, into very discomforting situations with the legal system.

The Right to Die reaches further than just the act of committing suicide: several countries now also allow assisted suicide and euthanasia under certain conditions. Assisted suicide (which is legal in Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, Sweden and Switzerland) describes the act of making lethal means available to a patient so that he can bring about his own death. Euthanasia (only legal in Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) on the other hand implies that the physician is taking an active role in carrying out the request of the patient to die. Both practices are only legal in cases of terminal or very painful illnesses.

A big step that shook up a tiny nation

In 2009, the Luxembourgish government, lead by the centre-right Jean-Claude Juncker in coalition with the Socialist Party, was confronted with division over the question of the legalisation of euthanasia. In fact, while the socialist MPs followed the approval of the general population for such a law, Juncker’s party stood on the roots of its Christian principles, which forbid all acts of “playing God”.

In a very rare vote, the socialists found allies in the liberal democrats and Green Party, which provided the narrow majority to pass this revolutionary piece of legislation, disregarding the incumbent governmental coalition, making the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg the third country in the world to legalise this practice.

Luxembourg, known for its love for discretion, faced a constitutional crisis as the country’s monarch, Grand-Duke Henry, refused to sign the bill into law, due to his Catholic convictions. Presented with the infamous options of stepping down, signing off on the bill nonetheless and seeing his powers restricted, the heir of a long family line of European royalties chose the latter. A 150 year-old article of the Luxembourgish constitution was changed: the signature of the head of state was no longer necessary for the implementation of an act of legislation.

The revolution that wasn’t one

The 2009 law legalised the practice of “reducing the suffering of a patient and to ease the agony of a terminal illness”. On an individual basis, people in Luxembourg have the possibility to determine the conditions in which they utilise euthanasia in advance, in what resembles a testament. Opponents of the euthanasia law pretended that hundreds, maybe thousands, of patients would now have the irresponsible access to their right to life. In reality, not even 20 cases of euthanasia have been counted to date (with a majority of patients suffering from cancer and being over the age of 60). The revolution of self-ownership has remained a stigma to date.

Self-ownership should be consistent

The essence of self-ownership is the belief that the integrity of ones body is part of its private property, and just as private property offers the possibility of destruction, the gift of life offers the ability to end it voluntarily. The right to die, independently of there being such a thing, shouldn’t be a right GIVEN by government but inherent to the condition of life itself. Even if we cannot agree on the basic principle of the ethical questionability of suicide itself, pretending that terminally ill people, patients that bear the insufferable agony, notably due to cancer, should not be allowed to end their misery, is of unspeakable arrogance.

Luxembourg has taken a vital step forward, living up for once to the expectation of government to defend life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; even if it means ending ones life as it is.

About Bill Wirtz

My name is Bill, I'm from Luxembourg and I write about the virtues of a free society. I favour individual and economic freedom and I believe in the capabilities people can develop when they have to take their own responsibilities.

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