The movement to establish the legal right to control the manner of one’s dying is truly worldwide, with work ongoing in many states and countries.
The first aid-in-dying law in the United States was passed in the state of Oregon in 1994, by referendum of the voters. It passed again, by a larger majority, in 1997.
The second such law was passed in the state of Washington in 2008, also by referendum of the voters.
In 2012, Vermont became the third state to pass a death-with-dignity law, and the first time by action of the state legislature.
In Montana, aid-in-dying was legalized by a decision of the state supreme court in 2009.
In New Mexico several years ago, a court decision legalized aid-in-dying in one county but this was overturned by an appeals court.
On June 9, 2016, the California End of Life Option Act went into effect, establishing the right to aid-in-dying in California.
On November 8, 2016, the voters of Colorado approved the Colorado End of Life Option Act by a nearly two to one margin. The new law went into effect in January, 2017.
On Saturday, February 18, 2017, a wonderful aid in dying law went into effect in Washington DC — our nation’s capital.
On April 5, 2018, Governor David Ige signed into law the “Our Care, Our Choice Act,” a far-reaching aid in dying law in Hawaii, after it passed by overwhelming majorities — 39 to 12 in the House and 23 to 2 in the Senate. The law takes effect on January 1, 2019.
The Maine Death With Dignity Act and the New Jersey Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act both passed in 2019.
On April 9, 2021, New Mexico became the newest state to pass an aid dying law, when Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law the Elizabeth Whitefield End of Life Options Act. The new law is named for Elizabeth Whitefield, a New Mexico judge who died of cancer in 2018 after years of lobbying for the passage of an aid in dying law.
So we’re up to nine states where there are laws on the books authorizing aid-in-dying — California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, New Mexico, Hawaii, Vermont, Maine and New Jersey — and one state, Montana, where the right has been established by ruling of the state supreme court. Ten states altogether. Plus Washington DC.
The Oregon and other state laws all have the same basic features. You must be a mentally competent, adult resident of the state, and capable of making an informed decision. Your physician and a second, consulting physician must agree that you can be expected to die within six months. You must make several requests, both orally and in writing. There are waiting periods — it can’t be an impulsive decision. And if all of these conditions are met, your physician can write you a prescription. You fill the prescription, put the medication on the shelf, and then if and when your suffering becomes unbearable … if and when you decide … you take the medication to hasten your death. You can rescind your request for the medication at any time, and you’re never under any obligation to take it.
The websites of the Death With Dignity National Center and Compassion and Choices are both excellent resources for detailed information on the state of death-with-dignity laws in the United States. Here’s a link to the main page about death-with-dignity laws at National Center’s website, and here’s a link to the main page at Compassion and Choices website. And here are links to the full text of the Oregon law, the Washington law, the Vermont law, the California law, and the Colorado law.
Aid in dying laws around the world
On June 17, 2016, the Canadian Senate passed bill C-14 put forward by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party, which had previously been passed by the House of Commons. This made aid-in-dying fully legal all across Canada, and established a country-wide legal framework for its implementation.
There are many parameters of the new Canadian law which are similar to those of our own Oregon, Washington, Vermont and California laws. The Canadian law allows assisted dying for consenting adults “in an advanced stage of irreversible decline” from a serious and “incurable” disease, illness or disability and for whom natural death is “reasonably foreseeable.” Here’s the full text of the Canadian law.
The Canadian law implements a unanimous ruling by the Canadian Supreme Court on February 6, 2015, that Canadians have a fundamental human right to physician aid-in-dying at end of life. Here’s the full text of the Canadian Supreme Court ruling. This followed passage of a far-reaching aid-in-dying bill in the Canadian province of Quebec on June 5, 2014. The Quebec law, passed by an overwhelming 94 to 22 majority, went into effect in December, 2015. Here are links to the full text of the Quebec law, and to the fascinating 2012 legislative report in Quebec which led up to the law’s passage.
In Europe, the right to aid-in-dying is established in Holland (the Netherlands), Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland. In March, 2021, the Parliament of Spain passed a far-reaching aid in dying law, which is expected to come into effect in June, 2021, and in February, 2021, the Parliament of Portugal passed a similar bill. The Portuguese bill has been rejected by the country’s high court, but a revised version is expected to become law before the end of 2021. Aid in dying laws are in effect in Australia in the states of Victoria and Western Australia, with a newly-passed 2021 law in Tasmania slated to go into force in October, 2022. In Latin America, the right has been established in Colombia.
The Swiss organization Dignitas has a very useful page with details about aid in dying laws around the world.
Our cause is truly a worldwide movement. It’s immense in Britain, France, Germany, Australia, South Africa, Israel and many other countries. See our “Groups” page for links.
(updated April 11, 2021)