In recent years 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 currently allow terminally ill patients to receive aid in dying.
Legislators in New Hampshire have attempted to pass death with dignity legislation for years. In the 2020 legislative session, lawmakers considered another aid-in-dying bill called the New Hampshire Death With Dignity Act (HB1659) that would have allowed terminally ill patients who meet certain requirements to request life-ending medication. However, the bill died when the legislative session ended. If it had passed, the law would have functioned much like Oregon's Death With Dignity Act, allowing terminally ill patients who met certain requirements to request and use life-ending medication.
Citizen groups are still actively working to legalize aid in dying in New Hampshire. If choice at the end of life is important to you, here are some things you can do:
"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 New Hampshire 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.
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 February 1, 2022