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Six states allow assisted suicide, death with dignity

Written by Diane Archer

We all have different views about what death with dignity means. For some of us, it means choosing when we want to die if we are terminally ill. Colorado just passed a law legalizing assisted suicide. Now, six states allow assisted suicide.

California, Oregon, Vermont and Washington have passed laws legalizing assisted suicide for people at the end of life.  And the state Supreme Court in Montana has ruled assisted suicide legal in the state.

The laws in each state differ slightly.  In Oregon, which has permitted assisted suicide since 1994, individuals must be at least 18, competent, able to speak for themselves, and two physicians must certify that they have six months or less to live. Before a physician can prescribe lethal medication for them, individuals must also twice verbally express a desire to die, at least 15 days apart. And, they must make a written request to die signed by two witnesses.

If a doctor believes that the person requesting to die is depressed or cognitively impaired, the doctor must refer the person to a psychiatrist or psychologist.  And it is a felony to force a person who is terminally ill to make a request to die.

The language of a Colorado law that just passed, Proposition 106, tracks the terms of the Oregon law. But, some people still believe that the language does not adequately ensure that people requesting to die truly want to die. Others say that hospice care is not always able to relieve suffering, and it’s in the interest of patients with terminal illnesses who are suffering to have the choice to relieve that suffering.

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Note: This post is a version of a post first published on Health Affairs on September 20, 2011. The links on...