Physician-assisted dying is a controversial topic in the United States. Some people believe that a terminally ill person should have the right to end their life if they choose without the interference of government or without religious beliefs coming into play. In some U.S. states, the government agrees with this and has implemented death with dignity laws.
There are safeguards in place that go along with these laws to prevent misuse. For example, two physicians must confirm the patient’s diagnosis and prognosis. Waiting periods are also required before the prescription will be filled. Perhaps most importantly, the decision falls on the patient, and doctors must confirm the mental competency before moving forward with administering the medication.
In the United States, states that have death with dignity laws make it legal for adults with terminal illnesses to receive prescription medication that assists in their death. This is also known as physician-assisted suicide.
Even states that have legalized this form of death have several conditions that patients must meet. Physician-assisted suicide is only allowed for mentally competent adults who have been given 6 months or less to live because of a terminal illness. In other words, death must be inevitable in order for a person to receive the medication that ends the patient’s pain and suffering.
This has been a hotly debated topic across the nation. Some believe that it’s a person’s right to choose and the government shouldn’t have a say in how someone ends their own life. On the flip-side, some religious leaders advocate against death with dignity laws, believing that suicide is a sin.
The majority of the states in the U.S. have made physician-assisted suicide illegal. In fact, there are just eight states plus Washington, D.C., that have passed death with dignity laws. Many of these laws have been passed only within the last couple of years.
The states that have death with dignity laws are:
The state of Oregon was the first state in the U.S. to pass death with dignity laws through the Death With Dignity Act of 1994 and 1997. The next laws weren’t passed until over 10 years later, under Washington’s Death With Dignity Act of 2008.
In Vermont, physician-assisted suicide was legalized under the Patient Choice and Control at the End of Life Act, which was passed in 2013. In 2015, California passed the End of Life Option Act, although the laws didn’t go into effect until the next year. In 2016, Colorado and the District of Columbia passed laws – the End of Life Options Act and the D.C. Death with Dignity Act, respectively.
The most recent laws were passed in 2018 and 2019. Hawaii passed its Our Care, Our Choice Act in 2018 and 2019, Maine passed its own Death with Dignity Act in 2019, and New Jersey passed the Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act in 2019.