Bioethics Blogs

Physician Aid-In-Dying – Legal Overview

This new 35-page article from University of Houston law student Christina White provides a nice overview of the legal status of physician aid-in-dying in the United States.  

Here is the abstract:

For a terminally ill patient, physician aid-in-dying (PAD) is about gaining control over an agonizing, terrible death. In most states it is illegal for a doctor to prescribe a lethal dose of medication or advise a patient on taking her own life when she is ready. Only five states have legalized PAD: Oregon, Vermont, Washington, Montana, and, most recently, California. In order for other terminally ill patients to achieve control over their death, PAD should be legalized—and, therefore, regulated—in all states.

PAD could become legal in three ways: 

  1. The U.S. Supreme Court could determine there is a constitutional right for mentally competent, terminally ill, adult patients to seek assistance from their physician to die with dignity
  2. State courts could find either a state constitutional right or a statutory construction permitting PAD
  3. State legislatures, or citizens in states with the option of ballot initiatives, could enact statutes legalizing PAD. 

The best solution for legalizing PAD is a combination of a U.S. constitutional ruling that a right to PAD exists along with state statutes regulating that right.

This Comment proceeds in three parts, and addresses only PAD, not euthanasia. Part II discusses the current state of the laws: first analyzing the Supreme Court cases addressing PAD, then considering the state laws legalizing PAD. Following the discussion of the current laws, Part III of this Comment addresses some of the arguments against PAD, and why many of those arguments are not sound.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.