Author Affiliation: Center for Law and the Public's Health, Georgetown University, Washington, DC; and Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md.
In the 1990s, the US Supreme Court observed that “Americans are engaged in an earnest and profound debate about the morality, legality, and practicality of physician-assisted suicide.”1,2 Although the court did not find a constitutionally protected liberty interest in physician-assisted suicide, it invited state experimentation.1 In 1994, Oregon legalized physician-assisted suicide when voters approved a ballot measure enacting the Oregon Death With Dignity Act.3 The Act survived a 1997 ballot initiative for repeal by a 60% margin.4 The Oregon Death With Dignity Act exempts from civil or criminal liability physicians who, in compliance with specific safeguards, dispense or prescribe (but not administer) a lethal dose of drugs upon the request of a terminally ill patient. Oregon is the only state to legally authorize physician-assisted suicide; 44 states explicitly proscribe the practice; and virtually all states make it unlawful under the general criminal law (eg, murder or manslaughter).5
Gostin LO. Physician-Assisted SuicideA Legitimate Medical Practice?. JAMA. 2006;295(16):1941-1943. doi:10.1001/jama.295.16.1941