Can You Help Someone Commit Suicide?

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on February 09, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

There's a lot of debate about assisted suicide. Should friends, family or physicians be able to help a terminally ill patient die? Is it wrong to commit suicide, or does it ensure dignity near the end of one's life?

Whatever your moral stance, assisted suicide is ultimately governed by law. When one asks whether they can help someone commit suicide, they're really asking whether it's legal under a state's assisted suicide law.

And in the United States, most of those laws say no.

In a pair of 1997 cases -- Washington v. Glucksberg and Vacco v. Quill ­-- ­­the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that there is no constitutional right to assisted suicide. States are thus free to enact assisted suicide laws that ban the practice, or that permit it in limited circumstances.

In nearly every state (and the District of Columbia), assisted suicide is illegal by statutory enactment or common law. Whether done by a physician, family member or friend, aiding, advising or encouraging suicide is considered manslaughter or negligent homicide.

It would not be wise to assist a suicide in one of those states. You may face prosecution.

On the other hand, Oregon and Washington have assisted suicide laws that allow the practice when certain criteria are met. The Washington Death with Dignity Act allows physicians to aid competent yet terminally ill patients. There are waiting periods and consent forms to be signed. The Oregon Death with Dignity Act is very similar.

Even if you live in one of the few states without an assisted suicide law, you probably shouldn't help someone commit suicide. The practice is legally ambiguous and you might be opening yourself up to prosecution. Doctors in Oregon and Washington are the only people with assured immunity.

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