States consider assisted-suicide laws

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Peter Goodwin, a family physician who campaigned for the passage of Oregon's Death with Dignity Act in 1994, used the law to end his own battle with a terminal brain disease Sunday, the Oregonion reported.

Goodwin, 83, who was suffering from an untreatable neurological disorder called corticobasal ganglionic degeneration, was surrounded by his four adult children and their spouses when he took a fast-acting barbituate that gave him a "peaceful death" in less than 30 minutes, ABC News reported.

Under the Oregon law, doctors can prescribe medication to hasten the death of a patient with less than six months to live, according to NPR. The patients must be mentally competent and administer the medication themselves. Nearly 600 Oregon residents have used the law, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006, to end their lives since its passage 15 years ago. Physician-assisted death also is legal in Washington state and Montana.

The purpose of such legislation, according to advocates, is not to promote suicide but to empower terminally ill patients to choose one type of death over another. "Would we say that the people who jumped from the World Trade Center were committing suicide?" asked Barbara Coombs Lee, who worked with Goodwin to get the Oregon law passed and now educates doctors on its use as head of the nonprofit Compassion and Choices. "I wouldn't because the fire was in their face and they chose a different kind of death," she told NPR.

The controversial issue is also the subject of a bill and proposed ballot question in Massachusetts, MassLive.com reported. According to supporters, the bill has many safeguards in place. In addition to the six-month prognosis and mental competency requirements, terminally ill patients would have to make two oral and one written request to receive the medication, with two different waiting periods between the final request and the prescription.

Nonetheless, the Massachusetts Medical Society has long opposed physician-assisted suicide as being "fundamentally incompatible with the physician's role as healer," a position the society's president Lynda Young, a pediatrician, testified before the Joint Committee on Judiciary to reaffirm on March 6. "Instead of participating in assisted suicide, physicians must aggressively respond to the needs of patients at the end of life ... in order that these patients continue to receive emotional support, comfort care, adequate pain control, respect for patient autonomy, and good communication," she stated.

Similarly, the Vermont Medical Society also is opposed to an assisted-suicide bill being considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee, saying that it's unethical and threatens the physician-patient relationship, according to Vermont Public Radio.

To learn more:
- check out the story from NPR
- read the article from the Oregonian
- see the post from ABC News
- read the post from MassLive.com
- see the story from Vermont Public Radio

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