Attempts to Legalize Euthanasia/Assisted-Suicide in the United States
In the United States, Oregon was the first state to legalized doctor-prescribed suicide. At that time, assisted-suicide advocates predicted that there would be a rapid “domino effect,” and other states would soon follow Oregon’s lead. But they were wrong. It took fourteen years before another state legalized the practice, and, even then, only after advocates spent a whole year preparing the campaign and raising millions of dollars to insure the victory they so desperately wanted. That state was Washington, the state consultants said was demographically most like Oregon and, therefore, most likely to favor assisted suicide.
In May 2013, Vermont passed an Oregon-style assisted suicide law and in September 2015, California passed a doctor-prescribed suicide bill.
But, since Oregon legalized assisted suicide in 1994, many states have rejected assisted-suicide measures, some multiple times. Since January 1994, there have been more than 175 legislative proposals in more than 35 states. With the exception of Washington’s, Vermont’s and California’s bills, all bills that are not currently pending were either defeated, tabled for the session, withdrawn by sponsors, or languished with no action taken.
Here is a listing, by state, of all the ballot initiatives (since 1991) and all the legislative measures (since 1994) to legalize euthanasia and/or doctor-prescribed suicide in the U.S.
Ballot Initiatives that Passed
Ballot Measure 16 (Oregon Death with Dignity Act) passed on November 8, 1994, by the narrow margin of 51% to 49%. By legalizing physician-assisted suicide, the ballot measure transformed the crime of assisted suicide into a medical treatment.
Ballot Initiative 1000 (Washington Death with Dignity Act) passed on November 4, 2008, by a vote of 58% to 42%. The Washington law is virtually identical to Oregon’s assisted-suicide law.
Ballot Initiatives that Were Defeated
Washington State – 1991
Ballot Initiative 119, which would have legalized “aid-in-dying” (both doctor-administered euthanasia and doctor-prescribed suicide), was defeated by a vote of 54% to 46%.
California – 1992
Proposition 161, a ballot initiative that would have legalized euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide failed by a vote of 54% to 46%.
Michigan – 1998
Measure B, which would have legalized physician-assisted suicide, was overwhelmingly rejected by a margin of 71% to 29%.
Maine – 2000
Question 1, the “Maine Death with Dignity Act,” patterned after the “Oregon Death with Dignity Act” would have legalized physician-assisted suicide. It was defeated by voters 51% to 49%.
Massachusetts — 2012
Question 2, the “Massachusetts Death with Dignity Act,” patterned after the “Oregon Death with Dignity Act” would have legalized doctor-prescribed suicide. It was defeated by voters 51% to 49%.
|Legislative Measures since January 1994
With the exception of Vermont and California, all bills that are not currently pending were either defeated, tabled for the session, withdrawn by sponsors, or languished with no action taken.
HB 371 (1996)
HB 99 (2015) pending
District of Columbia
HB 1023 (1996)
For more extensive information about U.S. proposals to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide, see:
“Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide & Health Care Decisions” (2006)
“Assisted Suicide & Death with Dignity: Past, Present & Future” (2004)
“Assisted Suicide: The Continuing Debate” (2002)
“The Art of Verbal Engineering” (1996)
Update: on-line editions (1996 – Present)