Medical personnel are trained to “first do no harm.” In end-of-life treatment, that simple directive can be difficult to interpret, and the legal landscape has evolved in the United States over the past 25 years. In 1990, the US Supreme Court ruled that physicians and other health care providers could withhold medical treatment at the direction of a patient or the patient’s directed agent.
Most recently, a movement to provide patients’ help in dying has been termed “death with dignity” and “assisted suicide.” Federal law does not currently address euthanasia or “mercy killings” in terminal patients who seek a physician’s aid to end their own suffering. Rather, the patient’s right to obtain a physician’s or other health care provider’s help to end their life is established by state law.
California became the fifth state to enact a law giving doctors and health care providers authority to take an active role in a patient’s death. California’s law went into effect on June 9, 2016.
New data published to LawAtlas.org, curated by Elizabeth Glass Geltman, JD, LLM, explores which states have enacted death with dignity legislation, which outlaw physician-assisted suicide, and which make the practice criminal.
Most states do not allow patients to end their lives – with or without the aid of a doctor or other heath care provider.
Most states allowing physician assisted suicide take pains to limit the practice to terminally ill patients laws expected to die within a certain period of time. Most also provide rigorous guidelines to ensure the patient really wants the help of the physician to hasten death, that the decision is not sudden, impulsive or coerced and that the patient has no hope of recovery.
The new map also addresses which states are considering changes to current state policy legalizing the practice under certain circumstances — there are 19.
Visit LawAtlas.org for more information and to explore the laws and their characteristics.