June 18, 2012
Assisted suicide is a controversial topic, but what exactly does the law say? Although there is much debate about the morality of helping a terminally ill person end their life, the fact remains that it is illegal in most states.
In 1997, the United States Supreme Court ruled that there is no Constitutional right to assisted suicide, leaving states free to pass laws specifically prohibiting it. Under most state laws, helping someone commit suicide is a felony.
Only two states have passed laws legalizing assisted suicide in certain limited circumstances. Under Oregon's Death with Dignity Act, physicians can prescribe lethal medication that will allow terminally ill individuals to end their lives. There are very specific steps--including waiting periods and release forms--that must be followed before the medication can be prescribed. Washington has a similar law.
The law in a third state, Montana, is less clear. In 2009, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that physicians may prescribe medication to help terminally ill individuals end their lives, but lawmakers so far have not enacted a law that would allow this. Two bills regarding assisted suicide were introduced in the state legislature during the 2011 session, but neither made it out of committee. One bill would have provided protection to doctors who assist in suicides, while the other would have banned assisted suicide.
For a full list of state assisted suicide laws, click here.