An Accelerated Rate of Change

An accelerated rate of change
An accelerated rate of change

The US Supreme Court’s ruling on two key cases around gay marriage this week took many of us Death with Dignity advocates back to 2006 and the elation we felt when the Court released a majority opinion (also written by Justice Kennedy) in favor of the Death with Dignity movement in Gonzales v. Oregon. Both rulings, while different in nature, signal a shift away from a national government or government agents having a say in our most personal decisions about how we live and die.

The 2006 ruling was the first major case tried under Chief Justice John Roberts, and while there have been a couple changes since then, the Court remains more conservative in nature. Both rulings were closely split: 6-3 in 2006 and 5-4 this week, and the majority opinions for both pointed out the federal actions violated our country’s principles of federalism, which allow states to largely chart their own course.

The Court’s ruling in Gonzales v. Oregon reaffirmed Oregon’s autonomy to establish Death with Dignity, providing the legal framework for patients and doctors to work together to determine a patient-centered end-of-life care plan. Oregon’s law defined a legal medical practice in which the federal government shouldn’t interject. After the ruling, other states began the process of considering laws modeled on Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act with the knowledge that all significant legal challenges had been settled by the nation’s highest Court.

Follow they have. After over ten years of states watching Oregon’s law in effect and making sure it would hold up to legal challenges which went all the way to the highest court in the country, other states started moving their own Death with Dignity laws forward. Washington voters approved their Death with Dignity Act in 2008 by a hefty margin of 59-41%, and just this year, our years of work in Vermont helped the state became the first to pass a law through a legislative process.

Today, the nation can look at 15 years of annual reports to see the data continue to show these laws work the way they’re intended. Vermont’s new law demonstrates this isn’t just a notion pondered by academics or folks on the west coast. And for the time being, we can rest assured the highest court in the land has upheld our right to make our own decisions about major life events such as marriage and the manner and timing of our own deaths.

The conversation is changing. And it’s changing at a faster rate than ever.

View full post on Death with Dignity National Center

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