Is assisted suicide Legal in the U.S?

Assisted Suicide Legal

Assisted suicide is in the United States is usually not a topic that is discussed openly because it is an emotionally charged issue.

The general public is split on the subject of assisted suicide with some people feeling strongly about one side or the other while others are more ambivalent. This article will explore what assisted suicide is and why it might be illegal in some states but not in others.

What is the difference between physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia?

The primary difference between physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia is that the physician is directly involved in administering a life-ending drug to assist with suicide as opposed to euthanasia is where someone else does it, usually an immediate family member.

This is an important distinction, because, while physician-assisted suicide is legal in 10 jurisdictions in the US: Washington, D.C. and the states of California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, New Mexico, Maine, New Jersey, Hawaii, and Washington, euthanasia is currently illegal in all 50 states of the United States.

What is physician-assisted suicide?

Physician-assisted suicide is defined as the act of permitting an individual to end his or her own life by means that is controlled by another person, in this case, a medical professional.

In the jurisdictions where physician-assisted suicide is legal, it is most often used to refer to the act of a doctor, or other medical professional such as a nurse, prescribing medication that is then taken by an individual to end his/her life.

Just because physician-assisted suicide is legal in these states does not mean it is commonly used, as there are strict rules in place that determine when, and to what extent, a physician can assist in the ending of someone’s life.

For example, on April 8, 2021, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act into law after the bill passed the New Mexico Legislature, legalizing assisted suicide in the state.

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The law allows for terminally ill patients with six months or less to live to request lethal medication. Two medical experts are required to agree on the patient’s diagnosis and the patient must pass a mental competency screening in order to receive lethal medication. There is a 48-hour waiting period, after which the patient must take the medication themselves.

To what extent is assisted suicide legal in the U.S?

As we’ve already mentioned, physician-assisted suicide is legal in 10 jurisdictions in the US: Washington, D.C., and the states of California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, New Mexico, Maine, New Jersey, Hawaii, and Washington.

However, outside of the bounds of being administered by a medical professional and under the strict legislation that controls how and when physician-assisted suicide is legal, non-physician-assisted suicide, or euthanasia, remains illegal.

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Written by:

Lisa Myers, J.D., L.L.M.
Legal Studies Department Director
J.D. L.L.M. Campbell University

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