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Movements in the USA in the field of choices and dying with dignity.

Following Oregon and Washington, a growing number of States in the USA have (re)started their endeavours to create the legal right for a free choice at the end of life and dignity in dying. These States are: Montana: A Montana Supreme Court decision in 2009 ruled that “Nothing in the State laws prohibits physician assisted suicide”. This was considered to be “as good” as a law, but up till now no Montana doctor has challenged that decision again. Both opponents and supporters are in agreement that this decision does not mean that physician assisted suicide is legalized, as it is in Oregon and Washington. Therefore the Judiciary Committee of the Montana Senate tabled Bill 220 again, aiming to bring definite clarity for doctors and patients on physician assisted suicide.

Vermont: The proposed bill S 77 – extensively debated in the Vermont Senate joint Judiciary and Health & Welfare Committee (see article) – was finally approved by the Senate with a 22-8 vote. The three day long debate in which one amendment followed on another amendment, resulted in the Senate to formulate a totally new end-of-life bill to be moved to the House for a (new) debate. S.77 is expected to get a major overhaul in the House, where a majority of representatives are said to support the original version of the legislation, which provided many more protections for terminally ill patients who wish to end their lives with a legally prescribed drug. Melissa Barber of Death with Dignity National Center: “The process of passing laws is a bit like making sausage, the end product is often good, but you probably don’t really want to see how the product came to be…. The bill still has a long way to go in the sausage-making process.”

Connecticut:The issue of physician-assisted suicide is returning to Connecticut. Edward Meyer, a Democratic senator from Guilford, has proposed legislation that would allow a mentally competent person suffering from a terminal illness to take his or her own life with the help of prescribed medication. A similar bill was proposed and defeated in 2009.State legislators and advocates for aid in dying held a press conference at the Legislative Office Building on Tuesday, setting the stage for legislation that will be introduced into the Public Health Committee. Modelled on the laws in Oregon and Washington state, which were passed by referendums, Connecticut’s law would apply only to terminally ill, mentally competent patients. The bill has yet to be drafted.

New Jersey: A New Jersey Assembly committee is set to consider a measure that would allow terminally ill patients to be prescribed medication that would end their lives. The Death with Dignity Act would let adult patients who are told they have up to six months to live decide if they want to self-administer the lethal medication. The Health and Senior Service committee is due to consider the measure soon.The bill’s sponsor says state statutes are outdated and that New Jersey should follow the examples of other states considering similar measures. The bill calls for a referendum on the issue, but it also could be sent back to the legislature.After hearing two hours of testimony, the New Jersey Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee voted to move the proposed Death with Dignity bill to the full Assembly for a vote. Assembly Bill 3328, introduced by Representative John Burzichelli, would send a law emulating the Oregon and Washington Death with Dignity Acts to the voters of New Jersey. Of the eleven members on the committee, seven voted for it, two against, and two members abstained from voting.

Other activities on this issue take place in:

Hawaii: bill introduced and referred to Committees in January 2013.

Kansas: bill introduced and referred to Committees in January 2013.

New Hampshire: bill discussed in Judiciary Committee and by majority recommended for the bill to pass (January 2013).

Massachusetts: bill again – after narrow defeat in November 2012 – introduced and referred for Joint Committee (January 2013).

More detailed information on the USA situation can be found at the Death with Dignity National Center website.


(thanks to Melissa Barber and ERGO)