Five years ago, voters turned down a ballot measure to legalize physician assisted suicide in Massachusetts. Ever since, state rep. Louis Kafka has worked to reintroduce a version of the bill that could pass both a voter initiative as well as both chambers of the state house. The new bill, called The End of Life Options Act, is slated for debate this year, although legislators are hesitant to bring the bill to floor due to the contentiousness of the issue. Passing the bill would make Massachusetts the sixth state to allow physician assisted suicide.
The End of Life Options Act
Attitudes about physician assisted suicide have changed in past years. This has prompted the Massachusetts Medical Society to conduct a survey of its membership on the subject for the first time. The results of the survey could help to sway legislators in their vote on the End of Life Options Act, since it will take into account the opinions of the medical community on physician assisted suicide.
Physician assisted suicide is legal in only five U.S. States: Oregon, Vermont, Washington, California, and Colorado. It is also legal in Montana but requires a court ruling. The End of Life Options Act proposes to make Massachusetts the sixth state to allow patients with life-limiting illness to choose assisted suicide. Each state varies in the precise rules that govern physician assisted suicide.
How each state regulates physician assisted suicide:
Each state varies in how it handles physician assisted suicide. Here is the language each uses to define the process:
Oregon’s law states, “the physician must be a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.) licensed to practice medicine by the Board of Medical Examiners for the State of Oregon. The physician must also be willing to participate in the Act.”
Vermont’s law states, “only a doctor of medicine or osteopathy licensed to practice medicine in Washington may write this prescription…A physician, nurse, pharmacist, or other person shall not be under any duty, by law or contract, to participate in the provision of a lethal dose of medication to a patient.”
The state of Washington’s law states, “only a doctor of medicine or osteopathy licensed to practice medicine in Washington may write this prescription…participation is entirely voluntary. Health care providers are not required to provide prescriptions or medications to qualified patients.”
California’s law states, “An individual seeking to obtain a prescription for an aid-in-dying drug…shall submit two oral requests, a minimum of 15 days apart, and a written request to his or her attending physician. The attending physician shall directly, and not through a designee, receive all three requests required pursuant to this section.”
Colorado’s law states, “Allows an eligible terminally ill individual with a prognosis of six months or less to live to request and self-administer medical aid-in-dying medication in order to voluntarily end his or her life;Authorizes a physician to prescribe medical aid-in-dying medication to a terminally ill individual under certain conditions; and Creates criminal penalties for tampering with a person’s request for medical aid-in-dying medication or knowingly coercing a person with a terminal illness to request the medication.”
Physician assisted suicide statistics:
Each state varies in its reporting requirements for physician assisted suicide. Only in states where it is legal are there reporting systems in place, and even so only three have any statistics of significance to report. As of January of 2017, Oregon has reported a total of 1,127 completed suicides compared with 1,749 prescriptions given for that purpose. The state of Washington reports 917 suicides compared with 938 prescriptions. Vermont reports 53 applications for physician assisted suicide, but there is no data on how many people actually followed through with their prescription.