Is Doctor Assisted Suicide Legal in Ohio?

When I read the recent cover of People Magazine about Brittany Maynard, who intends to commit suicide on November 1, 2014 using Oregon's Death with Dignity Act, it reminded me of a client who came to our offices in Columbus, Ohio recently asking for information on how to commit suicide legally.  The client, like Ms. Maynard, is suffering with terminal cancer and wanted to prepare legal documents to dispose of significant assets, and obtain information on how to do it.  Evidently Ms. Maynard in Oregon, suffering from a terminal glioblastoma  brain tumor, received a prescription for the lethal dose of  9 g of secobarbital in capsules or 10 g of pentobarbital liquid, along with antinausea (e.g., metoclopramide) and plans to take it on November 1.   (Article continued below graphic.)

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In Ohio, we are able to prepare your estate planning documents, and provide information on third party resources such as

and referred our client to States and countries where it is legal to receive a doctor's assistance.   I believe once the patient legally receives a prescription in another State, he or she can use the medication in Ohio.  There are also publications for those suffering from a terminal condition, such as Final Exit on how to do it without a doctor's assistance.

However, Ohio's legislature in RC 3795.02 declared in 2003 "Assisting suicide is hereby declared to be against the public policy of the state."

And "An (Ohio) court of common pleas shall grant an injunction enjoining any action related to assisting suicide if it finds there is reason to believe that the person enjoined is preparing to assist a suicide, is in the course of assisting a suicide, or has assisted a suicide. The injunction shall prohibit the person from assisting any suicide in this state regardless of who is being assisted."  It further appears that while a doctor or nurse in Ohio can be disciplined for assisting in a suicide, it is not an explicit separate criminal offense.   But an Ohio prosecutor may consider this type of assistance murder or reckless homicide and that's probably why no practitioners want to risk it here.

Despite Ohio's policy, this year, New Mexico's Supreme Court ruled that doctors may provide lethal prescriptions and ruled there is a constitutional right for "a competent, terminally ill patient to choose aid in dying."  Shortly thereafter, Vermont passed a law permitting physician assisted suicide.   It is also legal in Montana, Oregon and Washington.   Overseas, one can actually receive a doctor's direct assistance in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.  In the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland, the patient must administer her own medications.

If you feel the law should be changed in Ohio, you should contact your State legislators.

 

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