Matison Miller is a second-year law student at the American University Washington College of Law. She graduated cum laude from Scripps College with a dual degree in Politics and Middle Eastern Studies. She hopes to pursue a career advocating for gender equality and advancing human rights through legislation.

In almost every state, it is illegal to assist in suicide.[1] However, terminally ill[2] patients must choose between living with an incurable illness that may cause constant intense suffering or taking control their final days.[3] Due to the lack of a national statute protecting this right, patients are presented with options varying from packing up their lives to move across state borders or voluntarily stopping eating and drinking (commonly referred to as VSED). For example, in 2014, Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old newlywed, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and decided to move with her husband from California to take advantage of Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act.[4] Maynard was a young schoolteacher who many saw to have “more life ahead than behind her.”[5] Shortly after her death, more than nine million people viewed a video of her describing her illness and the reasoning behind her choice to use Medical Aid In Dying (MAID).[6] Thousands of other patients like Maynard, young and old, have taken advantage of state legislation protecting one’s right to choose.[7]

As of 2023, only ten states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation supporting MAID.[8] The process to receive medical aid, however, can drain patients of their finances and exhaust their emotions in addition to addressing their preexisting medical condition. Oregon was the first state to pass a law supporting MAID in 1994.[9] Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act allows terminally ill individuals, who are deemed capable, to end their lives through the voluntary self-administration of legal medications, expressly prescribed by a physician for that purpose.[10] Patients must submit an oral request to a physician, wait fifteen days (for those with more than fifteen days to live), submit a second oral request, submit a written request, wait 48-hours before picking up prescribed medications, then receive the medications.[11] Other statutes add additional barriers to receiving medications – requiring a twenty-day waiting period between requests or proof of state residence.[12]

Opponents of a national bill protecting one’s right to choose MAID argue that legalizing physician-assisted suicide medicalizes suicide, transforming a private act into a medical event.[13] Those who support one’s right to control the way they die argue that one’s individual liberty and ability to govern oneself free from external constraints may exercise moral autonomy so long as one’s behavior does not harm others.[14] On the other hand, those who are against MAID believe the decision to die this way is treated as a set of clinical problems to be solved medically, without recognition of their humanity.[15] Disability rights advocates object to MAID because it “harms disabled people as a class” similar to Jim Crow laws or bans on interracial marriage.[16] These laws reinforce a social stigma attached to disability and cause harm to all disabled people.[17] Another vocal opposition group is the Catholic Church which teaches that life should not be prematurely shortened because it is a gift from God.[18] This was most recently exemplified in 2012, when a Death with Dignity law failed in Massachusetts because the Catholic Church contributed $4 million out of the $5 million spent on campaigning to defeat the bill.[19]

Survey polls show that about 7 out of 10 Americans support doctors who help bring about ‘some painless means if the patient and his or her family requests it’ when dying.[20] The Due Process Clause guarantees liberty for the people; however, as legislators and advocates move forward, it is important to ask whether one has a liberty to choose how they die and how the federal government will support those interests.


[1] Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 710 (1997).

[2] Defined as having six months or less to live.

[3] See D Vincent Twomey SVD, The Proposed Assisted Suicide/Euthanasia Bill, 110 Irish Quart. Rev. 169, 169 (2021); see also Tania Salem, Physician-Assisted Suicide: Promoting Autonomy or Medicalizing Suicide?, 29 The Hastings Center 30, 30 (1999).

[4] Josh Sanburn, Brittany Maynard Could Revive the Stalled ‘Death With Dignity’ Movement, TIME (Nov. 1, 2014),

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id. (stating in the 17 years since the Oregon law took effect, almost 1,200 people have used it to obtain medication to end their own life [and] about 750 have actually taken the medication).

[8] Physician-Assisted Suicide Fast Facts, CNN (May 26, 2022), (CO, DC, HI, ME, NJ, NM, OR, VR, WA and MT by court rulings).

[9] States with Legal Medical Aid in Dying (MAID), ProCon.Org (Dec. 19, 2022),

[10] Or. Rev. Stat. § 127.805 (2019).

[11] Id.

[12] Compare Me. Stat. tit. 22, § 2140 (2019) with § 127.805.

[13] Tania Salem, Physician-Assisted Suicide: Promoting Autonomy or Medicalizing Suicide?, 29 The Hastings Center 30, 30 (1999).

[14] Id.

[15] Id. at 30-31.

[16] Danny Scoccia, Physician-Assisted Suicide, Disability, and Paternalism, 36 Social Theory and Practice 479, 480 (2010) (continuing that these beliefs perpetuate a subordinate position in a system of racial caste).

[17] Id.

[18] Religious Groups’ Views on End-of-Life Issues, Pew Research Center (Nov. 21, 2013)

[19] Sanburn, supra note 4.

[20] Id.