Euthanasia and Assisted Dying: A Look at the Laws

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There are few topics as controversial as that of euthanasia. There are a small number of European countries, notably Switzerland, who have gained a reputation for a lax attitude towards assisted dying. However, many people are surprised to learn that there are six states in the United States where some form of doctor-assisted dying has been legalized.

In these states,a terminally ill adult patient who is determined to be mentally capable, and has less than six months to live, can ask their doctor for the medication necessary to induce a peaceful death.


In the state of Oregon, the physician providing medical aid to the patient for the purposes of suicide must be a qualified and licensed Doctor of Medicine (M.D), or a Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O) who has been licensed by the state medical board, the Board of Medical Examiners for the State of Oregon. The law in Oregon also stipulates that the physician must be participating in the act willingly.


California contains additional stipulations and steps to the process of applying to a doctor for medical-aid in dying. In order for a doctor to provide a medical aid-in-dying drug to apatient, the patient must make two separate oral requests. These requests must be made a minimum of 15 days apart. A written request must also be submitted, and all these requests must come directly from patients to their physician.


Washington also requires that a doctor who prescribes medicine for the purposes of assisting a patient in dying must be either a licensed Doctor of Medicine or a Doctor of Osteopathy in the state of Washington. Participation must be voluntary, meaning that physicians cannot be obligated to provide their patients with these prescriptions, furthermore, health care providers cannot be compelled to provide the medications to qualified patients.


Colorado’s legislation contains more stipulations than the other states. Colorado contains the same provisions that are standard across the states, including that patients must be terminally ill and with a prognosis of six months or less to live. Colorado also explicitly states that tampering with a request for aid in dying medicationor coercing or attempting to coerce a terminally ill patient into requesting the medication is forbidden.

District of Columbia

Like California, the District of Columbia requires that patients who want a prescription for aid in dying medication make two separate oral requests to their doctor, which are separated by 15 days or more. In addition to these oral requests, there must be a written request, which is signed and dated by the patient and sent directly to the attending physician.

The fascination that our society has with the concept of assisted dying can be seen in some of the conceptual designs for machines, such as the capsule described in this article from Capital OTC, which is designed to euthanize patients. Machines like this could one day become the norm.

While physician-assisted dying is not widely available in the United States, polls consistently show a majority of Americans are in favor of offering terminally ill patients the option to end their own lives.