A majority of US states have either legalized medically assisted suicide or are considering legislation that would do so.
The pro-medical-dying movement has seen a groundswell of support since struggling to rack up wins in the 90s, with most successful initiatives only coming into practice after 2013.
In ten states and Washington, DC, euthanasia is legal, while 19 other states are considering their own legalization measures.
Most of the states where it is legal allow doctors to administer life-ending medications to a person with six months or fewer to live, but the exact criteria varies by state depending on who is in charge there.
Your browser does not support iframes.
Medically assisted suicide has become legal in 10 states and Washington, DC , while 19 other states are considering their own legalization measures
The US population is aging rapidly – by 2040, about one in five Americans will be 65 or older. At the same time, more than 170 million Americans could be living with one or more chronic conditions by 2030.
But while many state leaders and health professionals are advocating for assisted dying as a new option for end of life care, many doctors argue that the practice runs counter to the foundation of their profession.
Efforts in the 90s to legalize medically assisted suicide crashed more often than not, with the exception of Oregon, which, in 1997, became the first state to legalize what it calls ‘death with dignity.’
Authors of the Oregon legislation were careful in writing it not to characterize the act as a suicide, assisted suicide, mercy killing, or homicide, part of an effort to rebrand and reposition it as a medically sanctioned and regulated procedure.
The term ‘assisted suicide’ and others like it are now considered by doctors to be outdated, opting instead to call it ‘medical aid in dying’ because the patient controls when they take the death-inducing medication prescribed by a doctor.
Euthanasia is legal in seven countries — Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand and Spain — plus several states in Australia
Lynda Bluestein, 76, who pushed for Vermont to expand its medically assisted suicide law to non-state residents died by taking lethal medication
Eleven years after Oregon passed its law, Washington became the second state to pass a Death with Dignity law via ballot initiative voted on by residents.
That law was expanded in 2023 to let more healthcare providers sign off on requests for a medically assisted death and allowed the medications to be mailed to the patients.
In 2009, medical aid in dying became available in Montana when the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of terminally ill Marine veteran Bob Baxter. Vermont came next in 2013 with its law, followed by California, which later reauthorized it in 2021.
Colorado, DC, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, and New Mexico followed in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2021, respectively.
Another 19 states are considering measures to legalize medical aid in dying. In contrast, several others, including Vermont and Oregon, have expanded their laws to allow non-residents to go there to get life-ending medications from a prescriber.
Among those traveling from other states to Vermont was Lynda Bluestein, a 76-year-old from Connecticut with a terminal cancer diagnosis — who lobbied Vermont to ease its out-of-state restrictions on assisted dying.
She traveled to Vermont to end her life this month, with her husband Paul describing his wife’s final moments as ‘comfortable and peaceful.’
He said her last words were: ‘I’m so happy I don’t have to do this [suffer] anymore.’
But even if the practice becomes legal, many doctors may be adamantly opposed to carrying it out, saying it contradicts their directive to first do no harm.
The core ethics statement of the influential American Medical Association has said for years: ‘Permitting physicians to engage in assisted suicide would ultimately cause more harm than good.
‘Physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks.’
The practice is legal in Canada as of 2016 for those whose death is ‘reasonably foreseeable’.
A new law was initially set to go into place next month that would make medically assisted death accessible to people suffering from mental illness.
Around 13,200 Canadians chose assisted death in 2022, 31 percent more than the 2021 tally, federal health ministers reported.
Of those, 463 were not terminally ill but had other, not-named conditions.