Death With Dignity in Alabama

About half the states, including Alabama, have never officially considered adopting a death with dignity law.

Recently, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of states considering death with dignity laws. Sometimes called “assisted suicide” or “right to die” initiatives, these laws make it possible for terminally ill patients to use prescribed medication to end their lives peacefully rather than suffering a painful and protracted death.

The catalyst for greater national attention to this issue was 29-year-old Brittany Maynard, a woman diagnosed with terminal brain cancer who moved from California to Oregon to end her life in 2014. Maynard chose Oregon because California had not yet passed its aid-in-dying law, and Oregon is one of just a few other states to allow terminally ill patients to legally end their lives. Besides Oregon and California, states that allow aid in dying include Colorado, Washington, Vermont, and Montana.

Alabama's Ban on Assisted Suicide

Alabama has never officially considered adopting a death with dignity law. The state has, in fact, taken an opposing path. In 2017, the Alabama legislature passed a law declaring it a crime for a health care provider to knowingly prescribe medication intended to cause death. (See Alabama Act 2017-231.)

Advocating for a Death With Dignity Act in Alabama

About half the states, including Alabama, have never officially considered adopting a death with dignity law. However, citizen groups are actively working to legalize aid in dying in Alabama. If choice at the end of life is important to you, here are some things you can do:

  • Contact your representatives in the state legislature and encourage them to support death with dignity in Alabama.
  • Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper.
  • Tell your family, friends, health care providers, and others why you believe terminally ill patients should be allowed to choose aid in dying.
  • Search for -- or start -- a community advocacy group. The Compassion & Choices website can help you connect with others in your area.

Making a Living Will or Advance Directive

“Death with dignity” is one of the most commonly accepted phrases describing the process by which a terminally ill person ingests prescribed medication to hasten death. You may also see the phrase “right to die” used in place of “death with dignity.” However, “right to die” is more accurately used in the context of directing one’s own medical care -- that is, refusing life-sustaining treatment such as a respirator or feeding tubes when permanently unconscious or close to death. In Alabama or any other state, you have a right to provide such directions or give any other health care instructions by completing an advance health care directive. Health care providers are required to honor your wishes or transfer you to another care provider who will do so.

For information about making known your wishes for medical care at the end of life and appointing a trusted person to ensure your instructions are carried out, see the Living Wills & Medical Powers of Attorney section of Nolo.com.

Learn More

To find out more about the history and current status of death with dignity laws in the United States, visit the website of the Death With Dignity National Center.

Updated: 5/31/2017

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