“As of June 10, 2017, residents of Oregon, Vermont, Washington, California, Colorado, Montana and the District of Columbia may legally choose to have physician-assisted death, also called “death with dignity,” under certain conditions.”
As of June 10, 2017, residents of Oregon, Vermont, Washington, California, Colorado, Montana and the District of Columbia may legally have physician-assisted death, also called “death with dignity,” under certain conditions, according to CNN. Death with dignity is legal in Montana, because of a court ruling. In the other five states and the District of Columbia, state statutes make assisted dying legal. If you or a loved one is contemplating aid in dying, you need an overview of state death with dignity laws.
Legalized Death with Dignity
Besides the six states and the District of Columbia with death dignity laws or legalization, 30 states are considering death with dignity legislation. That leaves only 14 states that do not have legalized death with dignity and are not considering the legislation at this time.
In the handful of states that allow physician-assisted death, a doctor cannot be criminally liable for prescribing medications that speed up death for eligible individuals. To be eligible, the patient must have a terminal illness and be expected to live no longer than six months, as confirmed by two physicians. The individual must be at least eighteen years old and mentally competent to make and communicate his health care decisions.
The approved method of death is different in each state. However, the person must be able to take the medication without assistance. The District of Columbia law does not require you to be a resident, but all the states do.
The Terminology Involved
The Death with Dignity (DWD) National Center advocates the use of the term “death with dignity” rather than “physician-assisted suicide,” “doctor-assisted suicide,” “assisted suicide” or “euthanasia.” DWD argues these terms are incorrect, inaccurate and mislead the public. Descriptive terms recommended by the Death with Dignity organization to prevent judgmental implications are “physician-assisted death,” “physician-assisted dying,” “physician-hastened death/dying,” “aid in dying,” “physician aid in dying,” and “medical aid in dying.”
The Process for Death with Dignity
If you meet the eligibility criteria, it is not merely a matter of asking your doctor for a prescription. You must follow a multi-step procedure to utilize your state’s death with dignity laws. The steps for states that allow aid in dying are:
- You make a verbal request to your doctor for aid in dying.
- Your physician confirms whether you meet the eligibility requirements, including your current mental status.
- Your doctor must advise you of your options and ask you to notify your next of kin of your request for aid in dying.
- A second physician confirms your eligibility.
- If both doctors determine that you may use your state’s death with dignity law, the first waiting period begins.
- After at least 15 days, you can make your second request to your doctor. Your second request can be oral or written.
- California and Colorado require no second waiting period, but in Vermont, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia, your doctor must allow 48 hours to pass after the second request before writing the prescription. You do not actually receive the physical piece of paper on which the doctor wrote the prescription. Your doctor can either provide the medication directly to you or send the prescription to a pharmacy.
With aid in dying laws, you are in control of the decision and the process. You may retract your requests, whether oral or written, at any time. You do not have to fill the prescription, even after it is sent to the pharmacy. You do not have to take the medication. No one has the legal right to compel you to do anything against your will.
The laws are constantly changing. Therefore, before you take any action toward aid in dying, check with a local elder law attorney for the status of the laws in your state.
Death with Dignity. “Take Action: Death With Dignity Around the U.S.” (accessed August 27, 2017) https://www.deathwithdignity.org/take-action/
Death with Dignity. “Death with Dignity as an End-of-Life Option.” (accessed August 27, 2017) https://www.deathwithdignity.org/faqs/
CNN. “Physician-Assisted Suicide Fast Facts.” (accessed August 27, 2017) https://www.cnn.com/2014/11/26/us/physician-assisted-suicide-fast-facts/index.html
Death with Dignity. “How to Access and Use Death with Dignity Laws.” (accessed August 29, 2017) https://www.deathwithdignity.org/learn/access/