Assisted Suicide on Legal Agenda in Several States
A push for the legalization of physician-assisted suicide is under way in a half-dozen states where proponents say they see strong support for allowing doctors to prescribe mentally competent, dying individuals with the medications needed to end their own lives.
The large number of baby boomers facing end-of-life issues themselves is seen to have made the issue more prominent in recent years. Groups such as Compassion & Choices, a national end-of-life advocacy organization, have been working to advance the cause.
Advocates received a boost from last year’s ballot question in Massachusetts on whether to allow physicians to help the terminally ill die. Although the vote failed, it helped to spark a national discussion, said Mickey MacIntyre, chief program officer for Compassion & Choices.
"The Massachusetts initiative lifted the consciousness of the nation and in particular the Northeast region to this issue that there are other alternatives patients and their families should have an opportunity to access," MacIntyre said.
Bills legalizing assisted suicide are being considered in Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey, Kansas and Hawaii - and in Massachusetts, where proponents decided to resume their efforts after the public vote, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks legislative trends. There are also bills related to the issue under consideration in New Hampshire, New York, Arizona and Montana.
In Connecticut, which has banned the practice since 1969, a group of lawmakers said Tuesday that the legislature’s first public hearing on the subject would probably be held this month. At least two bills on the issue have so far been proposed in this year’s session of the Connecticut legislature.
If the General Assembly votes to legalize the practice, it would be the first state legislature to do so.
Oregon and Washington have passed right-to-die laws, but they did so through voter referendums. Montana’s Supreme Court has ruled that the practice of physicians helping terminally ill patients could be considered part of medical treatments. Thirty-four states prohibit assisted suicide outright. Seven others, including Massachusetts, banned it through legal precedent.
Opponents claim the initiatives in Connecticut are being pushed only by outside groups like Compassion & Choices.
"There’s no grass-roots cry for assisted suicide in the state of Connecticut," said Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the socially conservative Family Institute. "This is mostly an out-of-state organization that has targeted the state of Connecticut. They look at the Northeast and think this is low-hanging fruit: ’We can conduct our social experiments here in the Northeastern United States.’"