Your Questions about Supreme Court of Canada’s Ruling Answered

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This guest post has been contributed by Dying with Dignity Canada.


Supporters of Death with Dignity laws in the U.S., including Death with Dignity National Center, point to the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling decriminalizing physician-assisted death as a catalyst for their work. The ruling decriminalized physician assisted death for a broader range of people than the laws being promoted in the U.S.: competent Canadians with a grievous and irremediable medical condition, including an illness, disease or disability, that causes enduring suffering that is intolerable to the individual. The court did not define “grievous and irremediable” but it is clear it is not limited to terminal illness. In addition, someone who has dementia but is still competent to provide informed consent would qualify, provided their suffering is, at the time of the request, intolerable to them. The remedy from the courts includes both the prescription and administration of medication, so that individuals will not be compelled to end their lives too early out of fear they will lose the capacity to do so later on.

The Court has given lawmakers a year to write new legislation, either Federal or Provincial lawmakers can pass legislation, both can, and neither has to do so, though it is unknown which level(s) of government decide to act. The provision of healthcare is a responsibility that is shared by both federal and provincial governments. Naturally, if the federal government passes legislation on assisted dying that are within its legal jurisdiction, those laws would apply across the country. However, each province has the power to craft its own framework for assisted dying.

Opponents of the Supreme Court ruling immediately asked for the Federal Governemnt to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision by using the notwithstanding clause in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, essentially an override rule, to be applied in order to overturn the decision of the court, butT that drastic course of action option does not seem likely. Should neither the federal nor provincial governments pass laws applying the Court’s ruling, physician-assisted death would then be regulated by existing healthcare legislation and professional standards surrounding the practice of medicine, the same way that other end-of-life treatments are regulated.

In any case, in a year’s time, the current legal bans on prescribing and administering medication will be invalid in circumstances set out in the decision. Physicians will be able to assist either by providing the knowledge or the means for a person to end their own life, e.g. by prescribing life-ending medication or by administering life-ending medication. The SCC decision does not compel physicians to comply with requests for assisted dying. “Nothing in this declaration would compel physicians to provide assistance in dying,” the ruling reads. However, whether a doctor will have a duty to refer such a request to another doctor or healthcare institution if they are unwilling to provide the service will likely be addressed through legislation or regulatory standards governing the conduct of physicians. Similarly, the duty to provide physician-assisted death by hospitals, hospices, and other institutions will likely be addressed in federal or provincial legislation. If it is not addressed in legislation physician assisted death will be a right, but it might not be an accessible option for all Canadians.

To learn more about this issue, please join Dying with Dignity Canada for a Q&A webinar with our CEO, Wanda Morris, next week.

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Week 8/2015 in the Death with Dignity Movement

Last week a bill was introduced in the New York House, a bill criminalizing physician-assisted dying failed in Montana, and debate about Death with Dignity ramped up in Maryland and Massachusetts. The Daily Beast asked whether assisted dying is “the new abortion,” and after she declared support for the issue Diane Rehm featured Death with Dignity on her program.

These are the highlights of the most important developments in the movement around the United States from February 15 to February 21, 2015, with the corresponding media coverage.

California

The lively debate around the End of Life Option Act continued in the media, including on KPFA radio where our Vice President George Eighmey debated the proponents’ side.

Maryland

Maryland’s Death with Dignity law acquires an influential spokesperson and a human face.

Massachusetts

After Rep. Kafka again introduced a Death with Dignity bill, the issue is back on the table in the state where a related ballot initiative was narrowly defeated in 2012.

Montana

The bill criminalizing physician-assisted dying failed in the Montana House.

New York

A month after Rep. Rosenthal introduced New York Death with Dignity Act in the State Assembly, Senators Savino and Hoylman introduced New York End of Life Options Act in the State Senate.

Vermont

The sunsetting provisions of the Death with Dignity law are up for debate in the state legislature.

Elsewhere

Image by Zarko Drincic.

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Week 7/2015 in the Death with Dignity Movement

Last week a bill was introduced in Alaska and Maryland Houses. A group of patients and doctors filed a lawsuit in California seeking a right to physician-assisted dying. The right-to-die movement gained an influential advocate, NPR host Diane Rehm. And the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling last week affirming the right to physician-assisted dying fueled the Death with Dignity debate in the U.S., including NBC News, TIME, and Washington Post.

A friend of our organization’s, Dr. Peter Rasmussen, a retired physician in Salem, Oregon, who was one of the original plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case Gonzales v. Oregon and who is now suffering from the same type of cancer as Brittany Maynard did, published an op-ed in the New York Daily News on Sunday. In the piece he answers the question, “Should doctors ever help you die?” with a resounding, “Yes.” Our Vice President, George Eighmey, was a guest on the Senior Answer webcast out of Texas.

These are the highlights of the most important developments in the movement around the United States from February 8 to February 15, 2015, with the corresponding media coverage.

Alaska

Alaska has become the 21st state this year where a Death with Dignity bill will have been debated.

California

While the legislators grapple with the proposed End of Life Option Act, a group of patients and physicians filed a lawsuit seeking an end to the state’s ban on physician-assisted dying.

District of Columbia and Maryland

While in DC Councilmember Cheh’s bill is making its rounds through the Council, 37 delegates introduced a bill in the Maryland House.

Montana

Whereas physician-assisted dying isn’t illegal in Montana by Supreme Court ruling, two bills are circulating in the State Legislature: a Senate bill legalizing death with dignity and a House bill criminalizing physicians’ participation in assisted suicide.

Elsewhere

To get the news as it comes out, Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

Image by josh hunter.

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Oregon Health Authority Releases 2014 Death with Dignity Report

Oregon Health Authority, the state agency that oversees the implementation of and compliance with the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, has just released the 2014 Annual Report.

A total of 155 terminally-ill adult Oregonians received a prescription for medications under the provisions of the Oregon Death with Dignity Act in 2014, while 105 of them (67.7%) ingested the medications to die peacefully. This corresponds to 31 Death with Dignity Act (DWDA) deaths per 10,000 total deaths, or 0.3%.

Other highlights from the 2014 Annual Report:

  • Of the 105 DWDA deaths during 2014, most (67.6%) were aged 65 years or older. The median age at death was 72 years. As in previous years, decedents were commonly white (95.2%) and well-educated (47.6% had a least a BA).
  • While most patients had cancer, the percent of patients with cancer in 2014 (68.6%) was lower than in previous years (79.4%), and the percent with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) was higher (16.2% in 2014, compared to 7.2% in previous years).
  • Most (89.5%) patients died at home, and most (93.0%) were enrolled in hospice care either at the time the DWDA prescription was written or at the time of death.
  • As in previous years, the three most frequently mentioned end-of-life concerns were: loss of autonomy (91.4%), decreasing ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable (86.7%), and loss of dignity (71.4%).
  • During 2014, no referrals were made to the Oregon Medical Board for failure to comply with DWDA requirements.

Since 1998, the year in which the first person in Oregon took medication prescribed under the law, a total of 1,327 patients have received the prescription, of whom 859 (64.7%) ingested it and died. These figures continue to underscore not only that only a small number of people use the law but also that more than one third of those who received the medication took it, finding great comfort in merely knowing it was available to them. Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act continues to work flawlessly and to provide ease of mind and relief to Oregonians facing the end of life.

The board members and staff of Death with Dignity National Center, as the successor of the organization that passed Oregon’s law in 1994, are proud of our accomplishments. We are honored to be able to count on your support in promoting and passing Death with Dignity laws based on the Oregon model throughout the United States.

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Week 6/2015 in the Death with Dignity Movement

The whirlwind of media attention to Death with Dignity continued into February. These are the highlights of press coverage of the most important developments in the movement around the United States from February 1 to February 7, 2015.

If you only read one article, make sure it’s this overview of Death with Dignity developments written in response to the New York lawsuit (see below): “More states consider assisted-suicide laws since Brittany Maynard’s death,” The Christian Science Monitor, 2/4/2015.

(For a good overview of the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling that Canadian adults who are mentally competent and suffering intolerably and permanently have the right to a doctor’s help in dying, read this Globe and Mail article. And, TIME magazine has an analysis, including our take, of the impact of SCC’s ruling in the U.S.)

California

The buzz around California’s End of Life Option Act continues unabated.

Colorado

Following the introduction of a bill the previous week, a lively debate unfolded in Colorado before a House Committee heard and rejected the bill on Friday. Sixty-eight percent of Coloradans continue to favor Death with Dignity.

If you are interested in following the Committee hearings as they unfolded on Friday, February 6 (and as they will continue in the future, if applicable), see the Twitter hashtag #coleg.

District of Columbia and Maryland

The D.C. Council debates a death-with-dignity bill introduced mid-January by Councilmember Cheh, while Maryland awaits the introduction of companion death-with-dignity bills in the Assembly and Senate.

Montana

Whereas physician-assisted dying isn’t illegal in Montana by Supreme Court ruling, two bills are circulating in the State Legislature: a Senate bill legalizing death with dignity and a House bill criminalizing physicians’ participation in assisted suicide. Media coverage has been mostly relegated to letters to the editor.

New Mexico

New Mexico is watching out for an appeals court ruling on the legality of physicians’ right to aid patients in hastening their deaths.

New York

While two Senators prepare to introduce a bill, a group of patients and physicians filed a lawsuit challenging New York’s statute banning assisted suicide.

Wisconsin

There’s a low-key discussion of a death-with-dignity bill in Wisconsin.

Elsewhere

Death with Dignity is debated even in states that do not have bills on the books or legislative docket.

To get the news as it comes out, Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

Image by Communicore82.

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Canada Legalizes Physician-Assisted Dying

Canada today provided terminally-ill citizens with increased peace of mind and control over the dying process. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that those who are terminally ill and experiencing intolerable suffering have the right to a physician’s assistance in hastening death. The monumental ruling demonstrates Canada’s commitment, as a country with a reputation of being a just and civil society, to allowing terminally ill individuals the right to increased control in their final stages of life and strikes down an inhumane ban on assisted dying that interfered with the most fundamental of relationships between a dying patient and his or her physician.

The Canadian case, Carter v. Canada, featured several patients, but was driven by the plight of countless others. Gloria Taylor was a woman living with ALS who appealed to the Canadian court system in 2011 for the right to a dignified and humane death. The British Columbia Court of Appeals granted Taylor a personal exemption from the ban on assisted suicide, providing her with the right to an assisted death. After her death, the case continued, reaching resolution today.

According to our Executive Director, Peg Sandeen, “this groundbreaking ruling demonstrates Death with Dignity is an issue of pressing concern for the courts, for state legislatures, and for terminally ill individuals and their family members all over the world.”

Currently, 19 U.S. states and the District of Columbia are considering Death with Dignity legislation based on the original model, the Oregon Death with Dignity Act. Additionally, an assisted-dying bill is being considered in the House of Lords in the United Kingdom.

Sandeen reiterated, “The rights of terminally ill individuals have been ignored for too long. The inhumane denial of autonomy and control for those who are dying must stop. The United States must look to Canada’s ruling and Oregon’s model law to provide a dignified death to all those terminally ill, mentally competent individuals seeking it.”

Image by Lone Primate

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January 2015 in the Death with Dignity Movement, Part 2

Loudspeakers

In Part 1 of this two-part blog post series we brought you a compendium of media stories, published or broadcast in January 2015, covering death with dignity around the U.S. Today, we finish with a few in-depth articles and opinion pieces about death with dignity and end-of-life care. Enjoy!

Death with Dignity

End-of-Life Care

As always, if you’d like to get the news as it comes out, Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

Image by niche

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January 2015 in the Death with Dignity Movement, Part 1

The first month of 2015 has been very busy in our movement. Death with dignity appeared both in the national media and in local outlets in no fewer than 14 states around the U.S. as legislators there introduced or announced their intent to introduce bills (a handful of others will come up in the next few weeks.)

We begin with highlights of media coverage, including related editorials, of death with dignity laws being introduced or discussed around the country, along with a summary of the current status in each state (daily updates are here). The sheer number of states in play and corresponding media stories are testimony to how far the movement has progressed in large part thanks to the courage of Brittany Maynard in publicly sharing her private decision to request medication allowed under Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act. The outpouring of support for Brittany and the work we do toward death with dignity policy reform throughout the U.S. has been truly incredible. The issue of having death with dignity as an end-of-life option is clearly important to Americans.

California

State Senators Bill Monning, D-Carmel, and Lois Wolk, D-Davis, introduced SB 168-End of Life Option Act at a press conference on January 21. Death with Dignity National Center has provided strategic support for the effort in California.

Colorado

Colorado State Reps. Lois Court, D-Denver, Joann Ginal, D-Fort Collins, and Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, introduced a Death with Dignity bill on January 27.

Connecticut

SB 668-An Act Providing a Medical Option of Compassionate Aid in Dying for Terminally Ill Adults has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Delaware

State Representative Paul Baumbach has announced on his Facebook page that he intends to introduce a Death with Dignity bill this session.

District of Columbia

D.C. Ward 3 Council representative Mary Cheh introduced B21-0031-Death with Dignity Act of 2015 on 1/14/2015.

Iowa

Eight State Representatives introduced HF 65-Iowa Death with Dignity Act on January 21.

Kansas

House Bill 215-Kansas Death with Dignity Act has been introduced in the Committee on Health and Human Services. We registered no local media coverage in the state.

Maryland

State Representative Del. Shane Pendergrass and Senator Young are developing companion bills resembling the Oregon Death with Dignity Act.

Missouri

State Representative Kimberly Gardner, D-St. Louis, has introduced House Bill 307, which was read for the second time on 1/8/2015. No hearings are scheduled and the bill is not on the House calendar. We registered no media coverage in the state.

New Jersey

State Senate is due to vote on AB2270-Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act this session. Governor Christie opposes the law.

New York

State Senators Savino, D-N Staten Island/S Brooklyn, and Hoylman, D-Manhattan, plan to introduce a bill modeled on the Oregon law in the New York legislature this session. State Representative Linda Rosenthal is sponsoring a similar bill in the Assembly.

Oklahoma

Representative Kouplen introduced HB 1673-Oklahoma Death with Dignity Act on January 30.

Wisconsin

Senator Fred Risser, D-Madison, and Representatives Dianne Hesselbein, D-Middleton, and Sondy Pope, D-Cross Plains, are introducing a Death with Dignity measure modeled after the Oregon measure. This will be the 7th time such a proposal will have been introduced in the past 20 years. Though the legislators aren’t confident the bill will pass this session, they believe “it’s a conversation lawmakers ought to have.”

Wyoming

A House Committee has tabled HB 119 Death with Dignity Act sponsored by State Representative Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, and recommended the proposed law be researched by an interim committee.

In addition to these new or renewed efforts to adopt death with dignity laws, we’ve been monitoring the media in states where death with dignity is an option.

New Mexico

An appeals court in New Mexico is currently hearing a challenge to a lower court decision that doctors could not be prosecuted under the state’s assisted suicide law.

Vermont

Legislators will be revisiting the state’s death with dignity law, adopted in 2013, to prevent changes removing many patient safeguards from going into effect next year. Meanwhile, the law is working as intended.

In Part 2 later this week, we’ll feature stories from the national media and think pieces, opinions, and op-eds. Going forward we’ll bring you a media roundup on a weekly basis. If you’d prefer to follow along as news develops, Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

California State Capitol image by Wayne Hsieh.

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Exclusive: A summary of the announcement of End of Life Option Act in California

As we recently wrote, our representatives attended the announcement on January 21, 2015, of the End of Life Option Act in the California State Capitol. A recording of the 45-minute long press conference is available online. Today we bring you an exclusive summary, including our introduction. Please take a few minutes to watch the video and share your thoughts in the comments.

The Announcement of California End of Life Option Act from Death with Dignity National Ctr on Vimeo.

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End of Life Option Act Introduced in California

Press Conference Announcing End of Life Option Act at California State Capitol, 1/21/2015

Representatives from Death with Dignity National Center attended the announcement of the End-of-Life Option Act at the California State Capitol in Sacramento on Wednesday, January 21, 2015. Sponsored by Senators Wolk and Monning, Senate Bill 128 provides peace of mind and control for the terminally ill while safeguarding against coercion for those who are vulnerable. We are pleased to have worked with Senators Wolk and Monning to draft the proposed California legislation, the End of Life Option Act, and we will deliver our political and strategic experts who have worked successfully to pass legislation in Oregon, Washington, and Vermont to assist the California efforts.

George Eighmey, DDNC Vice President, said: “We are proud to be here today to support Senators Wolk and Monning as well as the people of California, in proposing a Death with Dignity law to provide a peaceful and dignified death for those suffering from terminal illnesses. The time is right for California to adopt this law.”

The Golden State has always been a leader in progressive policy reforms protecting individual rights. Thanks to this leadership, our movement traces its earliest roots to California, as the Death with Dignity National Center was founded here in 1993. We were proud to join these efforts yesterday.

Watch the full press conference below:

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