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Death with Dignity: An Overview & Legislative Update

Death with Dignity has become a household phrase since People magazine published young Brittany Maynard’s story concerning the issue. As a result of her emotional experience and story, Death with Dignity and “right to die” proponents all over the country have been refueled to get bills passed and laws put in place giving certain terminally ill patients the choice to end their own lives. Working in their favor are five states that already allow patients the right to die: Oregon (law passed in 1994), Washington (2008), Montana (2009), Vermont (2013), and New Mexico (2014). It should be noted that in both Montana and New Mexico a court case must be involved before being deemed lawful. Because of this, there is not much utilization.

In the three states that have laws allowing physician assisted suicide, certain criteria must be met in order to receive a prescription for the necessary medications:

1. Patient must be a resident of Oregon, Washington, or Vermont.

2. Patient must be 18 or more years old.

3. Patient must be capable of making health care decisions for themselves.

4. Patient must be diagnosed with a terminal illness that will result in death within six months.

5. Two physicians must evaluate that all above criteria is met.

In addition to all criteria being met, there are waiting periods before some of the steps can be accomplished. This includes the longest waiting period of 15 days between the first and second oral requests to the physician. In addition, there is a 48-hour waiting period before the prescribed medications can be picked up at a pharmacy.

In December of 2014, Medscape published an ethics report focused on “Life, Death, and Pain” that was given to 21,531 physicians in both the US and Europe. The very first question was “Should physician-assisted suicide be allowed?” The results in favor of allowing this were 54%, which is an 8% increase since the 2010 survey asking the same question (statistics from the US physicians only). Not far off from these physician results are results from a recent Gallup poll, in which 58% of Americans answered in favor of physician assisted suicide and 7 out of 10 were in favor of euthanasia for terminally ill patients.

Many states have legislation in the works to allow Death with Dignity acts similar to Oregon’s. States include: Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. In 2012 Massachusetts voters blocked a right to die act with 51% against the act and 49% in favor. In early 2014, the New Hampshire House of Representatives rejected a bill that would allow such a law. Legislators in Colorado plan to introduce a bill in the 2015 session that would make physician assisted suicide legal.

There are many arguments both for and against laws allowing physician assisted suicide. However, regardless of opinions, it cannot be ignored that it is a hot topic and there will continue to be legislation throughout this coming year regarding the subject. Join us for a Brainy Brunch in December of 2015 to take a closer look at physician assisted suicide and the most recent news surrounding the topic.


REFERENCES:

1. Death with Dignity Across the U.S. Updated November 13, 2014. http://www.deathwithdignity.org/advocates/national. Accessed December 20, 2014.

2. Eckholm E. New Mexico Judge Affirms Right to ‘Aid in Dying.’ The New York Times. January 13, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/14/us/newmexico-judge-afirms-- right-to-aid-in-dying.html?module=Search&mabReward=relbias%3Ar&_r=0. Accessed December 20, 2014.

3. Kane, L. Medscape Ethics Report 2014, Part 1: Life, Death, and Pain. December 16, 2014. http://www.medscape.com/features/slideshow/public/ethics2014-part1. Accessed December 20, 2014. 

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