In 2014, Brittany Maynard, who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, made it her mission to educate people on the “right to die” laws, which are also known as “death with dignity” laws. She also exercised her right to die with dignity by moving from California to Oregon because California did not have a “death with dignity” law at the time.
Death with dignity laws allow individuals who are mentally competent and terminally ill to request and receive a medical prescription to end their lives. The individual must be a resident of that jurisdiction to make the request.
Is Death with Dignity Considered Assisted Suicide? Is it Legal?
Death with dignity is generally considered the same as assisted suicide. In both situations, a physician helps the terminally ill individual end their life by prescribing substances that will end the person’s life.
The legality of death with dignity or assisted suicide depends on the state where the individual lives. In 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled states were free to pass laws for and against assisted suicide. It decided there was not a Constitutional right to assisted suicide. Not all states have passed legislation regarding assisted suicide.
In the states that have not passed “death with dignity” legislation, assisting someone with ending their own life may be considered homicide. The person who assisted with the suicide could also be charged in criminal court for the other person’s death. Thus, it is important for all parties involved that they understand the way the laws work in their region regarding death with dignity.
Homicide charges are typically categorized as felony crimes. Felonies can result in serious criminal consequences, including time in prison for over a year, criminal fines, and various other penalties or consequences.
How Many States Have Death with Dignity Laws?
As of May 2018, four states have passed legislation regarding assisted suicide: California, Oregon, Washington, and Vermont. Each state may have different provisions and details associated with their specific death with dignity laws.
For instance, in Oregon, a resident must follow specific steps to end their life. This includes going through a waiting period and signing a release form prior to receiving the medication. It is important to check with each state to verify the requirements.
Besides these four states, other states may have legislation in progress that cover the issue. Examples of such state include Montana and New Mexico. Laws in such states may be subject to opposition.
Should I Discuss Death with Dignity Laws with a Lawyer?
Death with dignity laws are complex and abiding by them can be tricky. There can be major consequences for the persons and parties involved, depending on state laws and patient disclosure/consent. However, it isn’t necessary to speak with a criminal lawyer until you’ve taken other steps.
First, it is important to understand the laws in your state and the required procedures, including any necessary visits to a physician or submitting any potential paperwork.
If you live in a state that permits death with dignity, then look on your state government’s website to find out the details. Most importantly, speak to your physician and find out what options you might have.