Lawmakers in 19 states are currently engaged in debates over legislation that would legalize assisted suicide for individuals diagnosed with terminal illnesses. While assisted suicide is currently permitted in states like Oregon, Washington, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Montana, New Jersey, Vermont, Hawaii, and Washington, D.C., bills seeking to expand access to this procedure have been proposed in various states this year, indicating a growing interest in the debate over a doctor’s role in aiding patients in ending their lives.
Assisted suicide was first legalized in Oregon in 1997, with other states such as Vermont, Washington, Montana, and California subsequently adopting similar measures. New Mexico, the most recent state to permit assisted suicide in 2021, established guidelines requiring patients with a life expectancy of six months or less to undergo a mental competency screening process and, upon passing, observe a 48-hour waiting period.
The new bills on assisted suicide have surfaced across the country, including states like Arizona, Virginia, Tennessee, and New York. Virginia, for instance, has progressed in passing a bill that allows patients with a terminal illness to request a doctor to provide a “self-administered controlled substance” to end their life. Proponents argue for individual autonomy in making end-of-life decisions, emphasizing the importance of dignity and freedom in facing terminal illnesses.
However, not everyone supports the expansion of assisted suicide laws. Bishops Michael Burbidge and Barry Knestout released a statement expressing alarm and deep sadness, urging the Catholic congregation to contact elected officials and voice concerns about the bills. They emphasized the need for high-quality medical, palliative, and hospice care for those facing the end of life, rather than resorting to assisted suicide.
Over the 23 years since assisted suicide became legal, 5,330 individuals in the U.S. have died through this method, with 8,451 Americans receiving prescriptions for the medication, according to a 2022 study. In Arizona, a separate bill proposes allowing patients to draft a “living will” permitting doctors to withhold “food and liquids.” Critics argue that this could potentially grant physicians immunity from criminal or civil liability, leading to concerns about potential abuse.
The situation in Canada, where assisted suicide access has expanded significantly, raises concerns about the U.S. heading in a similar direction. The U.S. neighbor suspended part of its medical assistance in dying (MAID) program, which initially allowed legal suicide for individuals with mental illnesses. Some express worries about the ethical implications and potential consequences of further expanding assisted suicide practices, emphasizing the importance of maintaining moral judgment and vigilance to avoid unintended consequences.