By Chris Haring

A law professor recently joined a podcast from medical influencer KevinMD to discuss why some restrictions on medical aid in dying lack a scientific basis.

Since Oregon became the first state to legalize physician-assisted death in 1994, the right-to-die movement has gained considerable traction among the public, which has resulted in significant progress in the expansion of end-of-life options for residents across the United States.

In the 30 years since medical aid in dying was first permitted, residents of ten other jurisdictions nationwide have gained access. Unfortunately, however, considerable barriers – and inconsistencies – remain among laws in aid-in-dying states.

In a recent KevinMD podcast episode, Thaddeus Pope – a Minnesota professor specializing in medical law and clinical ethics – delved into the complexities surrounding assisted-dying legislation, highlighting the evolution of aid-in-dying laws over the past few decades and the importance of employing evidence-based standards to ensure accessibility and effectiveness in their development.

Aid-in-dying bills should reflect the complex nature of the topic

He explained how the binary framing of such laws betrays the nuances and insights gained from states where medical aid in dying is currently legal. Pope noted that bills are “often framed as, do we authorize [assisted death], do we not authorize it?” Instead, he says, legislators should consider the effectiveness and popularity of these laws where they already exist.

If a state legalizes assisted death, it should also ensure accessibility

Further, Pope emphasized the importance of accessibility, as cumbersome stipulations can hinder access for those without the resources or means to overcome them. While he urges legislators to address these considerations as they propose new bills, current aid-in-dying states can ensure equitable access by passing amendments, such as removing residency requirements and shortening waiting periods.

Providers who wish to abstain from aid in dying must be transparent

Pope also highlighted the need for transparency, pointing to requirements in assisted-dying laws such as those implemented in Colorado, California, and Washington, which can empower patients to make informed decisions about their end-of-life care. Some providers may choose to opt out of the practice, but patients should be made aware of this so if necessary, they are not forced to seek care elsewhere when their illnesses have progressed to such a degree.

As more laws and amendments get passed (nearly two dozen states are considering – or have considered – bills during the 2024 legislative session), policymakers must prioritize approaches emphasizing accessibility, transparency, and patient autonomy. 

By learning from the experiences of states where medical aid in dying is already legal and implementing amendments informed by evidence and feedback, Pope says, we can ensure that terminally ill patients have equitable, reasonable access to compassionate end-of-life options that honor their wishes and values.

To learn more about Death with Dignity laws and how you can get involved in advocating, visit the Take Action page on our website. 

Watch the podcast below:

The Truth About End-of-Life Care Laws

The Podcast by KevinMD
Published: March 1, 2024

Thaddeus Mason Pope is a foremost expert in medical law and clinical ethics. He maintains a special focus on patient rights, health care decision-making, and end-of-life options.

He discusses the KevinMD article, “Medical aid in dying: time for evidence-based legislation.”