NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

States And Nation Face Assisted Suicide Issue

November 22, 1999

Oregon is the only U.S. state to have a law sanctioning physician-assisted suicide, and about 30 terminally ill patients have taken advantage of it in the two years it has been on the books.

But Congress may void Oregon's law. The House passed a bill October 27, 1999, to declare assisted suicide illegal. It is pending in the Senate

The Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that there is no constitutional right to the procedure -- leaving states to decide the issue. It upheld two state bans on assisted suicide but did not overturn Oregon's law.

  • Thirty-eight states have an outright ban on assisted suicide, six states have criminalized it and in five states the law is unclear.
  • Maine voters will likely consider an initiative similar to Oregon's next year.
  • California's legislature is debating the issue.
  • An Alaska appeals court may hear a case next year by two terminally ill residents who are seeking to overturn their state's ban of the practice.

A recent poll found that 61 percent of American adults support physician-assisted suicide in some cases.

Source: Patrick McMahon and Wendy Koch, "Assisted Suicide: A Right or a Surrender?" USA Today, November 22, 1999.


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