Expanding the Right to Physician-Aided Dying

The Washington Post recently ran an article about efforts underway by some folks to expand Oregon’s physician-aided dying law to include those individuals who do not have terminal illnesses. In Oregon, pushing to give patients with degenerative diseases the right to die explains efforts to expand the scope of Oregon’s law to cover those with degenerative diseases, such as people with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, multiple sclerosis and a host of other degenerative diseases who are generally excluded from the Oregon law.” Why? you might ask. “Because some degenerative diseases aren’t fatal. People die with Parkinson’s, for example, not because of it. Other diseases, such as advanced Alzheimer’s, rob people of the cognition they need to legally request the suicide medications.”


The article notes that this effort isn’t limited to just Oregon. In fact, there are “relatively modest drives … afoot in Washington state and California, where organizations have launched education campaigns on how people can fill out instructions for future caregivers to withhold food and drink, thereby carrying out an option that is legal to anybody: death by starvation and dehydration. (It is often referred to as the “voluntarily stopping eating and drinking” method.)”


Interestingly, the article reports that not all in the right to die movement are in favor of broadening the law. In fact “groups such as Compassion & Choices, the nation’s largest right-to-die organization, and the Death With Dignity National Center, a main author of the original law, have little appetite for widening access to lethal drugs in the states where medically assisted suicide already is legal.”
These initiatives aren’t just limited to the U.S. The story reports in Canada, The Quebec “provincial government is studying the possibility of legalizing euthanasia for Alzheimer’s patients. Unlike medically assisted suicide, a medical doctor would administer the fatal dose via injection. A survey in September found that 91 percent of the Canadian province’s medical caregivers support the idea.”
The Oregon legislature has taken the first step, the recent passage of legislation to investigate “how to improve the process of creating and carrying out advance directives. Gov. Kate Brown (D) is expected to sign it.”


Recently I have added language to my healthcare directives that provide people the option of choosing end of life care not only in “conventional” end of life situations but also when they are several cognitively impaired. Given the ability, due to medical technology, of staying alive in an extremely diminished state, hopefully this will provide additional choice at end of life and better guide healthcare decision makers of your true wishes.


About The Author

Named One of the Main Line’s Top Elder Law Attorneys
by Main Line Today

Robert M. Slutsky has practiced Elder Law since 1992 and was one of the area’s first elder law attorneys. Rob Slutsky advises clients on Medicaid and Asset Protection Planning, Guardianships, Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney, Estate Administration, Special Needs Planning and General Estate Planning. He has represented for profit and non-profit elder care providers and the Pennsylvania Department of Aging. Rob Slutsky has been the solicitor for the Montgomery County Office of Aging and Adult Services, the Area Agency on Aging for Montgomery County, for more than 15 years.