Death with Dignity in Oregon, Washington & (soon to be) Montana
The US has a spotted history of law reform on voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted dying. Since the 2008 Presidential election, there are now two states with Death with Dignity laws - Oregon and Washington.
Oregon was the first state to pass a Death With Dignity (DWD) Act which it did in 1994 after a Citizen Initiated Referendum. However, this law was not finally implemented until 27 October 1997. (In the intervening period, the Act was subject to legal challenge which prevented it being used; this is why the Northern Territory was the first place in the world to experience VE legislation.)
These Death With Dignity Acts allow people who are terminally and/or hopelessly ill to ask their doctors for lethal medication. Patients must make two verbal requests and one written request that is fully witnessed. Two doctors must agree on the patient’s ‘diagnosis, prognosis and the patient's capability’. The patient must administer the lethal medication themselves.
The Oregon and Washington laws explicitly prohibit euthanasia, which is defined as involving someone other than the patient administering the medication. The DWD legislation is reported on annually; in Oregon by the Department of Human Services.
The sixth Oregon review was released in early 2004, revealing that forty-two people used the DWD law in 2003. The law is reported as having had no effect on the overall death rate in that state.
‘Loss of autonomy’, ‘a diminished ability to participate in activities that make life enjoyable’, and ‘loss of dignity’ were the three most frequently cited end-of-life concerns by those who used the law. It is ironic that the Oregon Act passed into law in the same year that the ROTI Act was overturned.
The Washington law can be found HERE.
Breaking News - Dec '09
On 31 December 2009, the New York Times reported that the Montana Supreme Court has said that nothing in state law prevents patients from seeking physician-assisted suicide. This will make Montana the third state that will allow the procedure as soon as the legislature acts.
The oral arguments for the case known as Baxter v Montana can be viewed on Vimeo.