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48 New Mexico Law Review 267 (2018)


Terminally ill patients in the United States have four medical options for controlling the time and manner of their death. Three of these are legally available to certain clinically qualified patients. First, all patients may withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatment. Second, all patients may voluntarily stop eating and drinking. Third, patients with intractable suffering may receive palliative sedation to unconsciousness. In contrast, the fourth option is available in only seven U.S. jurisdictions. Only there may patients legally obtain a prescription for a lethal medication that they can later self-ingest.

Medical aid in dying (MAID) is not yet legally available in 49 of 56 U.S. jurisdictions. But its legal status has been in a state of rapid change across the country over the past ten years. Before 2008, MAID was legal only in Oregon. Today, it is legal in seven U.S. jurisdictions. Moreover, the rate and pace of legalization has been accelerating. Three of the now seven MAID jurisdictions enacted their statutes within only the past two years. Moreover, there are widespread and ongoing legislative and judicial efforts to legalize MAID in more than thirty other states.

I have designed this Article to help inform and guide these expanding law reform efforts. Because a page of history is worth a volume of logic, it summarizes earlier efforts (both successful and unsuccessful) to legalize MAID in the United States. In other words, this Article provides a descriptive legal history. It does not normatively assess either whether any efforts to legalize MAID were good public policy. Nor does it assess whether advocates grounded their arguments on solid legal analysis. Instead, this Article offers an objective, systematic, and thorough account of what those efforts were.