December 4, 2012

Hot Report: Right-to-Die Laws

OLR Report 2012-R-0477 summarizes laws or legislation in other states concerning the right to die as well as Connecticut bills on this topic.

Two states, Oregon and Washington, currently have statutes providing a procedure for a terminally ill patient to request medication to end his or her life. These laws are sometimes referred to as “death with dignity” or “physician-assisted suicide” laws.

Massachusetts voters considered a ballot initiative this year to enact a law allowing state-licensed physicians to prescribe medication for terminally ill patients, under prescribed procedures, to end the person's life. Voters rejected the initiative by a narrow margin, 51% to 49%.

While Montana does not have an assisted suicide statute, the state's Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that doctors have a defense to prosecution for assisting a suicide with the person's consent. Under Montana law, a victim's consent to conduct is a defense to prosecution. But consent is ineffective when it is against public policy to permit the conduct or the resulting harm. The court ruled that a physician's aid to a terminally ill, mentally competent adult is not against public policy and thus a person's consent can be a defense to prosecution (Baxter v. Montana, 354 Mont. 234 (2009)).

Connecticut last considered a right to die bill in 2009. The Judiciary Committee bill (SB 1138) was similar to the Oregon and Washington laws. The committee voted to box the bill. In recent years, similar bills were introduced in a handful of other states (such as Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania).

For more information, read the full report.