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Death-With-Dignity Boom: 26 States Now Considering Laws

The push for end-of-life autonomy has unprecedented strength. Lawmakers continue to advance aid-in-dying legislation in states across the country since Compassion & Choices’ national call to action November 19 – which would have been Brittany Maynard’s 30th birthday. Brittany’s powerful story and clear plea for change energized our on-the-ground campaigns and inspired new leadership in state houses from Maryland to Hawaii.

State Senator Diane Savino is expected to introduce her death-with-dignity bill in the New York legislature as early as today. After Brittany Maynard caught the nation’s attention by relocating from California to Oregon so she could access its pioneering Death With Dignity Act, Savino and Sen. Brad Hoylman hope to empower their constituents with that option.

“I was moved by Brittany’s story. I had seen her videos and felt compelled by the need, if I or any of my loved ones find themselves in a similar situation, to have that choice—and what a wonderful gift for her, that she was able to have a modicum of control over her end of life,” Hoylman said in an Observer interview.

C&C is also working toward a hearing for a bill raised in Connecticut. A Maryland bill already has 48 co-sponsors, and local advocates plan to hold a lobby day at the Capitol in Annapolis on March 4 and return to the Capitol March 10 to testify for the bill’s passage. California’s pending legislation continues to garner favorable press and legislative support, as well. A hearing may be held there in March.

Death-with-dignity bills are also advancing or have been pledged in a spate of other jurisdictions since C&C’s national call to action including Alaska, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Nevada, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington, D.C., Wisconsin and Wyoming. And noting the pioneering work in Oregon and the 17 years of sound data backing its Death With Dignity Act, last Friday the Canadian Supreme Court ruled unanimously that individuals nationwide have a right to physician-assisted dying by striking down a century-old provision of their constitution banning the practice.

In Montana, C&C’s longtime ally Senator Dick Barrett introduced the “Montana Death With Dignity Act” last month, which was heard before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. The bill would formalize the access to aid in dying that the state Supreme Court ruling authorized five years ago, addressing opponents who question the ruling’s application. Compassion & Choices Montana is also poised to defend the court ruling’s findings against another “Doctor Imprisonment Act” that would criminalize physicians for providing aid in dying to terminally ill patients.

Two weeks ago, Colorado supporters heralded the introduction of House Bill 1135, “An Act Concerning a Terminally Ill Individual’s Freedom to Make End-Of-Life Decisions,” sponsored by Rep. Lois Court, Rep. Joann Ginal and Sen. Lucia Guzman. An emotional press conference followed, where sponsors denounced the inaccurate and inflammatory term “doctor-assisted suicide.”

Court acted after one of her constituents, Charlie Selsberg, wrote an op-ed in The Denver Post about his choice to stop eating so he could die peacefully on his own terms rather than endure the torment of dying from ALS.

“It was the only choice I saw to end my life,” he said, “The only thing I can control.” It took nearly two weeks for Selsberg to pass.

Compassion & Choices advocates testified during a 13-hour hearing before the Public Health Committee, which by only three votes did not pass the bill this year. A poll taken a day after the bill’s introduction indicated overwhelming support, however: 68% of Colorado voters responded in favor of the legislation.

Get involved now to demand – or protect – end-of-life autonomy where you live by visiting your state’s page at CompassionAndChoices.org.