‘Death Tourism’: There’s A Growing Movement To Expand Assisted Suicide In The US
- Seven states are considering legislation to legalize assisted suicide this session, while Oregon and Vermont look to pass bills that would end the residency requirements on existing laws permitting the practice, inviting out-of-state patients to travel there to end their life.
- Anti-assisted suicide activists aren’t sure which states, if any, the legislation will make it through, given the issue does not split on strict partisan lines and the bills have failed in many states before, though Not Dead Yet President Diane Coleman says pro-assisted suicide organizations are lobbying particularly in New York and Massachusetts.
- Wesley J. Smith, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism, said the issue is fundamentally about “how to best respond to suffering,” meaning the categories that justify terminating one’s life easily expand once society “accepts killing as a proper response.”
While Canada makes headlines for its permissive assisted suicide laws, which approve euthanasia requests based on complaints of poverty, disability, and soon mental illness, activists in a handful of U.S. states are fighting their own battles to legalize the procedure.
At least seven states—Connecticut, Indiana, Massachusetts, Arizona, Maryland, New York, and Rhode Island—are currently considering legislation that would legalize assisted suicide, with two additional states—Oregon and Vermont—looking to pass bills ending the residency requirements on existing laws permitting the practice.
Currently, ten states permit assisted suicide: Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont, California, Colorado, Hawaii, New Jersey, Maine, and New Mexico, along with Washington, D.C. No U.S. law, either proposed or existing, compares to Canada’s “Medical Assistance in Dying” (MAID) system, which accounted for 3.3% of all of the country’s deaths in 2021, per a Canada Health report. But some experts do warn the US could be heading in that direction if states continue pushing these bills. Wesley J. Smith, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism, said the US could “fall into that abyss very quickly” if “a critical mass of legislation occurs.”
“The enthusiasm with which Canada has embraced euthanasia has been one of the most shocking developments I have witnessed in my 30 years of opposing this agenda,” he told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “I have truly been stunned.”
The root issue, he said, is not terminal illness but “how to best respond to suffering.”
“There are many people who suffer more and for far longer than the dying, so it is only logical that once a society accepts killing as a proper response, the categories of the suffering that justify termination will expand,” he said. “Or to put it another way, once eliminating suffering becomes the prime directive of society, it quickly opens the door to eliminating the SUFFERER.”
Diane Coleman, president of the anti-assisted suicide disability rights group Not Dead Yet, told the DCNF the states to watch are Massachusetts and New York, which the “well-funded organizations that push these bills” have been targeting the most.
Last year in New York, over 4,000 people signed a petition presented to Governor Kathy Hochul in support of New York’s Medical Aid in Dying Act, according to the pro-assisted suicide group Compassion & Choices. The bill was introduced this year on January 12.
New York Alliance Against Assisted Suicide spokesperson Jason J. McGuire, whose organization has been opposing the bill since it was first introduced seven years ago, told the DCNF that it is difficult to predict what will happen in his state this session since there are so many new members of the legislature, noting it is “not a partisan issue.”
“It is taking time for both sides of the debate to lock down where the members stand on this controversial matter,” McGuire said. “Thankfully, this is an issue that crosses party lines, though. It is not a partisan issue and strong opposition is coming from both sides of the political aisle.”
The issue, politically speaking, is not easy to categorize. As Smith points out, it’s “primarily a progressive agenda item,” though it’s supported by some libertarians. The question, he said, will likely be “decided by the influence of the disability rights movement,” who, though typically aligned with the “progressive caucus,” are opposed to the issue.
“With most disability rights activists adamantly opposed to legalization because they see people with disabilities as the targets of euthanasia and as devaluing people with disabilities—correctly, in my view—these proposals often get stuck in states that would seem ripe for passage,” Smith told the DCNF.
Many of these states have been pushing legislation for years. Connecticut, for example, has been trying since 1995, and in Maryland, where the bill now has 13 co-sponsors, including one Republican, has seen this or similar legislation introduced more than five times. Typically, these blue states pump out some of the nation’s most far-left policies: Maryland Governor Wes Moore announced plans last week to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution. “If it were just pro-lifers opposing, they would generally win in left-wing states,” Smith continued. “But it isn’t.”
“The coalition against legalization includes liberals and conservatives, pro-lifers and pro-choicers on abortion, medical organizations, advocates for the poor, some civil rights groups, etc.,” he said. “That makes for a complicated legislative scene in states where passage is possible.”
Maryland state Senator Chris West, the sole Republican sponsoring the bill in his state, said the vote will be “very close.”
“Three years ago, it was a tie in the State Senate,” he said, “I support the bill because my mother in law died an agonizing death, and I think the bill contains ample safeguards to protect people from being bullied into taking fatal prescriptions.”
McGuire said activists have “intensified” their campaign in 2023, though he remains optimistic about defeating the campaign for physician-assisted suicide in New York.
“There is often a lot of noise around this issue, but not a great demand for it,” he said. “This type of legislation can be defeated, if those who recognize how dangerous it is speak out against it. Suicide should never be be a compassionate society’s solution.”
Places that raise the greatest concerns for opponents are Vermont and Oregon, where bills to remove the residency requirement could invite visitors from around the country seeking to end their lives, in what some are calling “death tourism.”
There are indicators that this is already happening in Oregon. Dr Nicholas Gideonse, End of Life Choices Oregon director, advises terminally ill out-of-state patients to travel to Oregon to end their lives, according to the Daily Mail. A spokesman for the Oregon Health Authority also told the outlet that they stopped enforcing the residency requirement last March. A lawsuit filed against the state by Gideonse last year ended the residency requirement, claiming it violated the U.S. Constitution’s equal treatment guarantee; the pending bill would officially repeal it.
“While the residency requirement technically remains in place, the promise of non-enforcement of the law has begun drawing people into its net,” Oregon Right to Life Executive Director Lois Anderson told the DCNF. “Americans are already on their way from other states to receive lethal prescriptions from doctors in Oregon.”
Since the state’s law was first passed in 1997, 3,280 people have ended their lives using lethal doses of medication prescribed by a doctor, with 383 in 2021 alone, according to the Oregon Health Authority’s data. Coleman said the number typically increases each year and may not be entirely accurate as Oregon authorities “don’t verify or investigate doctors’ reports.”
Vermont Right to Life Director Mary Hahn Beerworth believes the removal of the residency requirement in her state is likely to pass, given the left-leaning legislature and changes the law has already undergone to loosen “so-called safeguards and requirements” since its passage in 2013.
“[T]he House and Senate are both controlled by super majorities of far left leaning representatives and senators so there is very little hope, if any, of stopping passage,” she told the DCNF.
Early last year, the legislature passed a bill to allow telehealth appointments and eliminate the required in-person physical examination—enabling doctors to prescribe lethal drugs virtually over Zoom.
Beerworth testified against the bill to remove the residency requirement on Tuesday, reminding the legislature that there “continue to be legitimate and serious concerns” surrounding the issue.
“As a lobbyist who witnessed the 13-years of discussion on physician-assisted suicide, and the numerous votes in both the House and Senate, I want to point out that assisted suicide was, and remains, a matter of contention,” she said. “Members of this body were as deeply divided as your counterparts in the states neighboring Vermont.”
She continued to raise questions about the logistics of the new proposal.
“Due to the experimental nature of the drugs currently being administered, what liability could the state of Vermont incur should the drugs fail to end the life of the patient?” she asked. “Will the patient seeking the lethal dose from a Vermont doctor simply find a willing prescriber online?…If the drugs are taken and death occurs in Vermont, what happens with the body?”
The bill will be on the House floor this week, Beerworth said.
There is, however, one state attempting to reverse course. In Montana, where assisted suicide has been permitted since the 2009 State Supreme Court case Baxter v. Montana found “nothing” against it in state statutes or court precedent, a bill has been introduced that would outlaw the practice, prohibiting consent as a defense for physician-assisted suicide. The DCNF reached out to Republican Rep. Carl Glimm, who introduced the legislation, but did not receive a response.
Compassion & Choices declined to comment, stating it would be “counter-productive” to speak with the DCNF about upcoming legislation due to previous “biased, negative news coverage of the issue” and a reference to the issue as “assisted suicide.”
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I am cautious about the expansion of euthanasia We have medical directives which can be left I do understand that if a person is so Ill and cannot recover, that this may be a humane option for some However, in soceity today, it is likely to be expanded beyond its intent Therefore, we can use medical directives ie dnr to achieve what we, as individuals, desire
For the very first time I agree with democrats. They should be allowed to kill themselves.