The 2019 legislative session will go down in history as the most successful the death with dignity movement has seen to date. For the first time, two states—Maine and New Jersey—passed assisted-dying laws in the same year.
Simultaneously, 18 additional state legislatures considered physician-assisted death bills, some for the first time.
Here, we recap this year’s legislative developments and look forward to the year ahead.
Five years of hard work paid off in June, when Maine Governor Janet Mills signed the Maine Death with Dignity Act into law. Following a year of signature gathering to place the assisted-dying measure on the state ballot, in early 2019 Death with Dignity staff also began working with legislators to advance a bill. We traveled to Maine in April to provide support to grassroots advocates, co-host an event for volunteers, and testify at an April 10 legislative hearing on the bill. Following the bill’s enactment, staff joined state advocates for a victory celebration.
The Christian Civic League of Maine on June 26 filed a petition repeal the new law through a people’s veto ballot initiative. They have until September 18 to collect the 63,000+ signatures required to put the initiative on the ballot in Maine.
We could not have won in Maine without the tireless efforts of Valerie Lovelace, our grassroots partner and chair of the political action committee, Maine Death with Dignity. Read more about Valerie here.
On April 12, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed the Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act into law.
“Allowing residents with terminal illnesses to make end-of-life choices for themselves is the right thing to do,” Murphy said in a statement. “I thank the Legislature,” which passed the bill on March 25, “for its courage in tackling this challenging issue.”
The law takes effect August 1, 2019.
Death with dignity legislation advanced farther than ever before in Maryland in the 2019 session. The End-of-Life Option Act passed out of the Maryland House of Delegates in March and was later defeated in the Senate by a single vote. Maryland remains one of our priority states, and we look forward to building on this session’s momentum in the coming year.
A total of 67 legislators sponsored an aid-in-dying bill introduced in the 2019 legislative session. Death with Dignity staff provided testimony at a June 25 hearing on the End of Life Options Act. We are working closely with the grassroots organization, Western Massachusetts Death with Dignity to advance policy reform in the Bay State. Read more about our partnership here.
Last February, Death with Dignity Executive Director Peg Sandeen testified before the Senate Health and Human Services Committee in support of SB 165, the Death with Dignity Act. State Senator David Parks The Committee passed the bill 3-2 on March 20, but the bill did not meet the legislative deadline for passage in the full Senate.
We will continue to build a coalition of advocates at the grassroots and work with our allies at the Statehouse to advance a bill in the next legislative session.
State legislators are considering the Medical Aid in Dying Act, which has been referred to the Assembly and Senate Health Committees. The New York Coalition for Medical Aid in Dying, of which we are a founding partner, hosted a Lobby Day at the state Capitol in Albany on May 14 and is leading a sustained advocacy campaign to bring death with dignity to the Empire State.
Death with dignity legislation succeeded in three legislative committees this year; two House and one Senate committee passed the Elizabeth Whitfield End of Life Options Act. However, the bill did not come up for a vote in either legislative chamber. We are proud to support advocates on the ground who are already laying the groundwork for the next session.
For the first time in Arkansas history, the state legislature considered a death with dignity bill. At a March 12 hearing in the Public Health Committee, the bill was not brought up for a committee vote.
Virginia State Delegate Kaye Kory introduced the state’s first-ever death with dignity bill on January 14. The bill failed to meet a legislative committee deadline and did not advance this session.