Assisted suicide, also called physician-assisted suicide or medical aid in dying, allows someone to take their own life with someone else's assistance, usually a doctor. Assisted suicide occurs when someone helps a person with a terminal illness, such as cancer, take their own life to avoid suffering.
Death with Dignity Laws
States that allow assisted suicide have death with dignity laws. These states are also called "right to die states.
States with these laws make it legal for adults with terminal illnesses to receive prescription medication to assist in their death. Some conditions must be met
- Patient must be a mentally competent adult
- Patient must have been given six months or less to live because of a terminal illness
- Two physicians must confirm the patient's residency, diagnosis, prognosis, mental competence, and voluntariness of the request.
- There are two required waiting periods: one between the oral requests and the second between receiving and filling the prescription.
Assisted suicide is controversial because it raises questions surrounding ethics and religious beliefs. People who believe that suicide is a sin due to their religion, for example, may be against assisted suicide, even if the terminally ill patient faces extreme pain and suffering. Supporters of assisted suicide believe that it is up to the individual to decide their death, not the government or religious institutions and their ideologies.
States that Allow Assisted Suicide
In the United States, federal law allows states to make their own choices regarding assisted suicide. Because of its controversial nature, it comes as no surprise that assisted suicide is illegal in most states. However, assisted suicide is legal in nine states and the District of Columbia:
- District of Columbia
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
In these states, it is legal for terminally ill patients to receive lethal medication from their doctors. Additionally, in Montana, there is currently no death with dignity statute; however, the end-of-life option is legal through a State Supreme Court ruling. In New Mexico, a judge ruled that patients have to receive a lethal dose of medication if they are terminally ill.
Oregon was the first state to have a passed ballot measure to allow assisted suicide in 1997. New Mexico was the most recent to pass legislation in 2021.
Requirements for Assisted Suicide
In states that allow for assisted suicide, the requirements are similar. In all nine states and the District of Columbia, the patient must be at least eighteen years of age, a resident of the state, and have six months or fewer until their expected death.
Patients are also required to make multiple requests to their physician to go forward with the path of medical aid in dying. In most states, this requires two oral requests fifteen days apart and one written request. Oregon does not put a time requirement between the two oral requests and Hawaii requires 20 days between the two oral requests. New Mexico only requires the patient to complete one written request on a state-provided form.