Definitions of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia
- The terms "assisted suicide and euthanasia" are often used interchangeably. However, even though the person impacted dies from a foreign substance rather than an underlying illness, there are differences.
- Physician-assisted suicide: Involves a medical doctor who intentionally provides a patient with the means to kill him or herself, usually by an overdose of prescription medication.
- Assisted suicide: Involves a layperson providing the patient with the deadly means for suicide.
- Euthanasia: Involves the intentional and direct killing of a patient by a physician, most commonly by lethal injection, or by another party. Euthanasia can be voluntary (at the patient's request), non-voluntary (without the knowledge or consent of the patient), or involuntary (against the patient's wishes).
- A person can reject medical treatment at the end of life without it being considered as assisted suicide or euthanasia. There are no laws, medical associations, church denominations, or right-to-life groups who insist that unnecessary, heroic, or truly futile treatments must be provided to prolong life and all recognize the right of competent patients to refuse medical treatment.
Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia in the United States
- Assisted suicide is legal in the states of Oregon, Vermont and Washington. Oregon legalized assisted suicide by ballot in 1994 and Washington by ballot in 2008. The Vermont legislature enacted a law to legalize assisted suicide in 2013. In 2009 the Montana Supreme Court issued a ruling which left the legality of assisted suicide in question.
- The states of California (1992), Washington (1991), Michigan (1998), Maine (2000) and Massachusetts (2012) defeated ballot referenda questions to legalize assisted suicide. Washington legalized assisted suicide on its second referenda question in 2008.
- Since 1994 when Oregon legalized assisted suicide, 135 bills in 27 states have been introduced. Only the Vermont proposal has been enacted into law.
- Euthanasia is not legal in any of the 50 states.
Important U.S. Court Decisions on Assisted Suicide
- The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1997 in Washington v. Glucksberg that there is no federal constitutional substantive right to assisted suicide. In a 1997 companion case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Vacco v. Quill that there is no federal constitutional equal protection right to assisted suicide.
- The Supreme Court of Alaska in Alaska v. Sampson declared there is no state constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide, as did the Florida State Supreme Court in McIver v. Kirscher.
- The Montana Supreme Court ruled in late 2009 that a person's consent to assisted suicide is a defense for doctors who provide lethal drugs.
Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia in Other Countries
- Assisted suicide and euthanasia are legal and widely practiced in the Netherlands. The Netherlands also adopted protocols which allow euthanasia for infants with disabilities.
- Assisted suicide and euthanasia are legal in Belgium and Luxembourg.
- Assisted suicide is technically not legal in Switzerland but widely practiced there.