Swedish health authorities said Monday that halting life-support at the request of a patient is legal. This has cleared the way for doctors to agree to a heavily disabled woman's request to be allowed to die.
"A patient who wishes to discontinue treatment has a right to do so. The condition is that he or she understands the information provided by the doctor and the consequences of his or her decision," the National Board of Health and Welfare said in a statement.
The ruling came after the Swedish Society of Medicine asked for a legal clarification, since one law in Sweden allows a patient to decide when to end treatment, while another makes assisted suicide, by turning off a respirator for instance, a punishable offence.
"This is a very good decision, very clear and exactly what we were looking for," Eva Nilsson Baagenholm, the head of the medical society, told the TT news agency.
Monday's decision was also a response to a letter written last month to the health and welfare board.
In the letter, which was leaked to Swedish media, an unnamed 32-year-old woman who has been entirely paralysed and dependent on a respirator since the age of six had asked that her breathing device be shut off.
"I don't want to suffer or rot away, which is what will happen, since the respirator is the only thing keeping me alive," she wrote.
"It is my clear wish that the respirator be shut off after I have been put to sleep. No human being in the world can manage to suffocate themselves while awake without panicking. If I had the ability to do so, I would have," she added.
Following Monday's decision, the woman told the Expressen daily she was "very happy and I feel peace in my soul."
The national health board said doctors should not provide unwanted treatment, and should provide drugs to put a patient to sleep or morphine to ease the pain before for instance shutting off a life-sustaining respirator.
"The main thing is that it is the patients themselves who decided what treatment they want to accept and when it should be terminated," Anders Printz, who heads up the board's legal division, said in a statement.
Actively helping a person to commit suicide by administering lethal substances or force remains illegal in Sweden.