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Euthanasia & Assisted-Suicide Measures in the United States (1988-2005)

 Kathi Hamlon

States with Voter Ballot Initiatives

Washington State

Washington State Initiative (119) was filed, the first state voter referendum on the issue of    euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.

 Washington State voters defeated Ballot Initiative 119, which would have legalized physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. The vote was 54%-46%. (November 1991)


A Hemlock Society spin-off group, Americans against Human Suffering, launched a campaign to legalize "aid-in-dying" (a euphemism for euthanasia). The campaign failed to garner enough voter signatures to qualify it for November’s ballot initiative vote.

Americans for Death with Dignity, formerly Americans against Human Suffering, gathered enough signatures to place the "California Death with Dignity Act" (CA- DWDA) on the state ballot as Proposition 161. In November, California voters defeated Proposition 161, a measure to legalized euthanasia. The vote was 46% for and 54% against the measure.

An Oregon-style physician-assisted suicide bill (CA-DWDA) was introduced into the California Legislature. Defeated due to lack of support.

Another CA-DWDA—assisted-suicide bill AB 1592 —was introduced in the California Legislature. While the measure passed two committees in the Assembly (Lower House), it was pulled by the author due to the lack of support in the full Assembly. Author turned the measure into a 2-year bill, but continued lack of support killed the measure in January 2000.

Yet another Oregon-type assisted-suicide bill (AB 654)—this time called the "California Compassionate Choices Act"—was introduced in the legislature. This bill, like the 1999 version, passed out of two committees, but, due to a lack of support in the full Assembly, the authors pulled the measure. Hoping for a better outcome in the Senate, the authors—Assembly members Patty Berg and Lloyd Levine—engaged in a "back room maneuver," called "gut & amend," and managed to get AB 654 into the Senate as AB 651. But the Senate members were not as supportive as the authors hoped. Before any vote could be taken, the authors changed both AB 654 (still in the Assembly) and AB 651 (still in the Senate) into 2-year bills. That means that the authors have until January 31, 2006, to get both houses to approve one of the two identical bills, a prospect which is highly unlikely.


Oregon’s chapter of the Hemlock Society introduced the "Death with Dignity Act" in the Oregon legislature, but it failed to get it out of committee.

In November 1994, by a 51%-49% vote, Oregon voters approve the "Oregon Death with Dignity Act," also known as ballot initiative Measure 16. The measure made it legal for Oregon doctors to prescribe lethal drug overdoses to terminally-ill patients who ask to die. Doctors were granted full immunity from prosecution if they followed Measure 16’s provisions. Oregon became the first and only state in the U.S. to pass such a measure. Because of a court challenges, the Oregon Death with Dignity Act (O-DWDA) did not take effect until October 1997.

Due to serious flaws in the O-DWDA, the Oregon Legislature passed a bill to return Measure 16 to the voters for possible repeal in the November 4, 1997, election. The new initiative to repeal the O-DWDA was called Measure 51. Oregon voters rejected Measure 51 (the repeal) by a margin of 60%-40%.

On October 27, 1997, the O-DWDA—as passed in 1994—took effect.


The Michigan assisted-suicide group Merian's Friends gathered enough voter signatures to qualify their assisted-suicide initiative measure — entitled "Terminally Ill Patient's Right to End Unbearable Pain or Suffering" (also known as Proposal B) — for the state’s November 3 ballot. But, on election day, Michigan voters handed assisted-suicide proponents an overwhelming defeat, rejecting Proposal B by a margin of 71% - 29%.


Assisted-suicide advocates in Maine qualified a ballot initiative—to legalize the induced-death practice—for the November state election. The measure was virtually identical to the assisted-suicide law which passed in Oregon in 1994. The Maine Death with Dignity Act, was placed on the ballot as Question 1: "Should a terminally ill adult who is of sound mind be allowed to ask for and receive a doctor’s help to die?"

On November 7, 2000, Maine voters joined ranks with those in Washington State, California, and Michigan by defeating the ballot measure. The vote was 51% no, 49% yes. 

Other states with multiple legislative attempts (bills) to legalize physician-assisted suicide


For three years, assisted-suicide advocates targeted the Hawaii Legislature in the hope of making Hawaii the second state after Oregon to legalize physician- assisted suicide. The 2002 version of the Hawaii Death with Dignity Act (HI-DWDA)—modeled after Oregon’s law—passed the House but was defeated in the Senate by a vote of 14-11.

In 2003, the HI-DWDA died in committee.

In 2004, the House Judiciary Committee voted 10-5 for the measure, but when the bill went to the House floor, the Democratic leadership withdrew it without taking a vote. They said there were not enough votes to pass it.

In 2005, proponents introduced another HI-DWDA (HB 1454). This time—after more than nine hours of pro and con testimony—the bill did not even survive its first hearing before the House Health Committee.


In 2003, Representative Linda Lopez introduced an Oregon-style bill which would have legalized "aid-in-dying" to "terminate the life of a qualified patient."   The bill did not get out of committee.  

In January 2004, Lopez introduced a new bill, drafted by assisted suicide supporters under the working title,
"Patient Comfort and Control Act." It also failed.

2005 In January 2005, Lopez introduced two bills.  Both would permit assisted suicide.  One, called an "Aid-in-Dying" bill (HB 2313), like Lopez's 2003 bill, is virtually identical to Oregon's assisted-suicide law.  The second (HB 2311), is a reintroduction of the failed 2004 measure based on the Patient Comfort and Control Act. Neither bill passed.


2003 Assisted-suicide advocates introduced the Vermont Death with Dignity Act— another clone of the Oregon law. The chairpersons of both the House and Senate Health & Welfare committees refused to hear the measure.

2005 The bill was reintroduced in February 2005. On April 12-14, the House Human Services Committee heard 3 hours of public testimony and almost 12 hours of expert testimony for and against the measure. The committee decided not to vote on the bill. House Speaker Gaye Symington (D) indicated that she does not plan to hold a House floor debate on the assisted-suicide measure in either 2005 or 2006.


2005 Rep. Frank Boyle (D-Superior) and Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison) introduced their latest "Death with Dignity" bill in the Wisconsin Legislature. They have introduced similar bills for the past 12 years, but, each time, the bills have languished in committee, never progressing to a vote by either legislative chamber. Their 2005 bill is also expected to die.

Kathi Hamlon is a policy analyst for the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide and the editor of the International Task Force Update.



Copyright © 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved