Monday, September 14, 2015

Physician Assisted Suicide

As a society, we tend to avoid talking about the end of our lives.  We prefer to think about future plans with our current, healthy bodies.  Not everyone has this luxury, however.  According to the National Cancer Institute, between 13 and 14 million people have cancer at any given time in the United States.  While not all cancer leads to death, there are certain types of cancer with a very specific prognosis.  In most states, patients given a prognosis of six months of life to live are offered a simple plan:  get your affairs in order and prepare for the end.

In some states, however, cancer patients with a prognosis of six months or less to live are given another option: physician assisted suicide.  Those states (Oregon, Vermont, and Washington) have enacted Death with Dignity Acts.  If the patient with that specific prognosis meets other specific criteria (competency, second opinions, residency, etc.), they can request a prescription for a lethal dose of medication.  Once given the prescription, they can have it filled at a pharmacy and then must administer the medication themselves – no one else can give it to them.

Some states, such as Montana, have legalized physician-assisted suicide via case law (see Baxter v Montana).  Other states are working on legislation similar to Oregon (they were the first to pass such legislation) and other states have legislation making physician assisted suicide illegal.

Where does your state stand?  You can look it up at this website:

Other sources:

Valerie Connor, MA CCC-SLP


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