Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Why states are on the fence about a patient’s right to die

DieIn 2014, Brittany Maynard was dying from brain cancer at age 28. Her husband, Dan Diaz, stated that her final weeks were killed with pain, the inability to sleep, and frequent seizures.

During Maynard's last weeks, there was discussion about a lethal prescription that would send her into a deep sleep and ultimately end her life. Maynard received the prescription in Oregon, which allows terminal patients to a seek life-ending prescription from a medical doctor. 

As of now, eight states and the District of Columbia have death with dignity laws, also called medical aid in dying laws. Although the states have these laws, there are restrictions on when and how a patient can take the prescription. There are also barriers to access like waiting periods between formal requests. Another issue is how the prescription is consumed. All states that permit medical aid in dying require the patient to self-ingest the medication and must be in mentally competent at the time the prescription is taken. 

Maynard was worried that an incapacitating stroke would make her unable to self-ingest the medication. In her last weeks, Maynard experienced violent seizures almost every day. At that point, Maynard decided that it was time for the prescription as she feared of a stroke that would take away her ability to communicate and she wanted to avoid dying "trapped in [her] own body."

Although advocates contend that the laws protect the professionals right to refuse, they argue that their right to support is not protected. The main issue here is that it is not clear what it means to participate. 

It is not clear where the future rights of patients/medical staff is headed but scholars believe that legal access will expand in the coming years.

See Emilie Lucchesi, Why states are on the fence about a patient's right to die, ABA Journal, May 21, 2020. 

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/trusts_estates_prof/2020/06/why-states-are-on-the-fence-about-a-patients-right-to-die.html

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