In the Laboratory of the States: The Progress of Glucksberg‘s Invitation to States to Address End-of-Life Choice
It has now been ten years since the Supreme Court handed down Glucksberg and Quill, rulings on laws that forbid “assisted suicide.” In that time, normative and legal developments in the fields of law, medicine, and psychology have changed the landscape of the discourse on the choice of a mentally competent, terminally ill individual to choose to self-administer medications to bring about a peaceful death. Although the Court rejected petitioners’ claims that state laws denying them the ability to end their terminal illnesses through self-administered medication violated the Constitution, it left states with the opportunity to experiment with legislation that would allow terminally ill individuals the choices they had previously sought through litigation. Oregon’s experience with its Death with Dignity Act, which grants terminally ill, mentally competent individuals the choice to end their lives through self-administered medication, has proven that such laws provide comfort not only to those who, faced with the prospect of a horrible death from a terminal illness, choose to end their lives in a peaceful and dignified manner, but also to those to ultimately choose not to. Additionally, Oregon’s experience shows that the fears that originally attended the “assisted suicide” debate are unfounded so long as proper procedures are in place. Because Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act has proven both useful and harmless, this Article concludes that it is time for other states to follow Oregon’s lead and enact their own legislation to allow their citizens an alternative to what otherwise could be a prolonged and painful death from terminal illness.