Published May 2, 2023
Death with Dignity
Each person deserves the right to decide for themselves when their terminal illness is too much.
When discussing the right to choose, we are not just referring to reproductive issues. Included is the right to decide for yourself how and when to die when faced with a terminal illness. Whether deciding for yourself or helping a loved one, end-of-life decisions are never easy. They are fraught with emotion and uncertainty. They require us to stare down our mortality and truly face the inevitable.
Many of you will remember Jack Kavorkian, a medical pathologist who advocated for assisted suicide for those diagnosed with terminal illnesses. He went to prison for 8 years for his troubles, having been convicted of second-degree murder following the passing of his last patient. As a result, at least in part, of Dr. Kavorkian’s efforts, Oregon became the first state to pass death with dignity legislation in 1997. Since then, 8 additional states have passed similar legislation, while many more have enacted laws expressly forbidding it.
Primarily, death with dignity legislation gives terminally ill patients the ability to request medication from their treating physician that ends their life in a humane and dignified manner at a time of their choosing. Most bills have a mandatory waiting period of anywhere from a couple of days to a few weeks, and several states have a residency requirement. Still, others require that the request for life-ending medication may only be made if the terminal illness is likely to cause death within a certain period (e.g., 6 months).
A 2006 Pew Research Center study states that most Americans support right-to-die legislation. As of 2020, more than 157,000,000 have a chronic disease. That is approximately one-half of the American population. And the reality is that we all are likely to know someone who has faced a terminal illness. Their life with the disease and their ultimate death may have been an agonizing ordeal for themselves and their loved ones. There has to be a better way. The good news is that there is another way, and we have the power to make it happen.
There are currently nine states with pending death with dignity legislation:
Connecticut HB 5487 and SB 1076; Florida SB 864; Indiana HB 1020; Iowa HF 533 and HF 612; Maryland SB 845 and HB 933; Massachusetts S 1331 and H 2246; MN SF 1813 and HF 1434 and 1930; NV SB 239; NY A 995 and S 2445; PA HB 543; RI H 2510 and S 126.
Montana currently has access to death with dignity options. Despite a 2009 supreme court opinion that found the practice of medical aid in dying was not against public policy, lawmakers have proposed legislation to take that right away and criminalize it.
In the state of Vermont, after waiving their residency requirements for an individual who lives in another state, lawmakers are considering doing away with that part of the law altogether. This would allow people who live elsewhere to take advantage of Vermont’s death with dignity options.
Each person deserves the right to decide for themselves when their terminal illness is too much. If you live in one of the states with pending legislation on dying with dignity, send the state to Resistbot to lobby your officials.
Thank you to Jason.