Introduction

Webcast archive: Assisted suicide bills in the US

This week, we're looking at a variety of bills introducing assisted suicide in US states.

Webcast archive: Assisted suicide bills in the US

In this episode of Euthanasia & Disability, Amy Hasbrouck and Christian Debray discuss:

  • Assisted suicide bills in the United States
  • FAQ: Safeguards Fail – Psychological evaluations

Please note that this text is only a script and that our webcast contains additional commentary.

ASSISTED SUICIDE BILLS IN THE UNITED STATES

  • Bills related to Assisted suicide were introduced this year or carried over from the last legislative session in 25 U.S. States.
  • Most of the bills would legalize assisted suicide for people diagnosed with six months to live or less.  A few measures stand out for their different effects.
    • Arizona’s legislature passed, and its governor signed, a bill (SB 1439) that will protect doctors’ conscience rights to refuse to perform assisted suicide should the practice ever become legal in that state.  A bill to legalize AS in that state (HB 2336) is unlikely to advance.
    • In Oregon, SB 893 would expand the current law to allow euthanasia by advance directive.  The bill is currently pending in the Senate Health Care Committee.
  • In Alaska, HB 54 was heard by the House Health and Social Service Committee on April 6.  Marilyn Golden from the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund testified (via video conference) as did J.J. Hanson of the Patients’ Rights Action Fund.  Observers believe the bill is unlikely to progress.
  • In Nevada, a hearing before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on SB 261 scheduled for April 12 was postponed for a second time by the bill’s sponsor.  This puts an additional burden on those who would testify against the bill, to re-arrange schedules and transportation to attend the postponed hearings.
  • The state of Maine has two virtually identical bills which were heard on April 5 by the Joint Health and Human Services Committee.  The bills are expected to be taken up at a work session of the committee on April 19.
  • In Hawai’i, SB 1129 was approved in the Senate by a vote of 22-3, but the House Committee on Health deferred action on the bill, making it unlikely that it will come to a vote.
  • A bill in New York (A02383 / S03151) was re-introduced this year after being approved by the Assembly’s Health Committee by a vote of 14 to 11.  This year’s bills have once again been referred to the Health Committee.
  • The New Jersey Bill (A2451 / S2474) is a hold-over from 2016, where it passed the Assembly on October 20 by a vote of 41 to 28 (with 5 abstentions), and was also approved by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee (on November 3).
  • Bills have been introduced and referred to committee in the following states:  Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Wisconsin
  • Assisted suicide bills appear to be dead in other states, including, Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Tennessee, Utah, Wyoming
  • Thanks to Stephen Mendelsohn of Second Thoughts, Connecticut for information used in this report.

FAQ – SAFEGUARDS FAIL – PSYCHOLOGICAL EVALUATIONS

  • These are not usually required.
  • Mental health workers have the same prejudices and biases about life with a disability as medical doctors; they tend to under-estimate the quality of life of people with disabilities, and therefore assume that a suicide request by a disabled person is, by definition, “rational.”
  • The opinion is based only on a short visit and the notes and opinions of the referring doctor.  The psychologist or psychiatrist doesn’t have enough information to make a clear and complete evaluation.
  • Mental Health professionals don’t know about community supports and services that can help people live independently.
  • These psychiatric evaluations are done to determine if the person is competent, instead of evaluating if the person is depressed or has a mental illness susceptible to treatment, or if his state of mind could be changed from wanting to die.
  • In Oregon, doctors rarely ask for a psychological consultation (only 5 people, or 3.8%, in 2016) to check for mental health problems that might cause suicidal feelings.  Nor do they consult with a social worker who could help put home and community-based services or peer counseling in place to deal with these feelings.