Disability Community

Options at the End of Life and Disability Rights: Fundamental Shared Values

When people face life’s inevitable end, they deserve autonomy and a full range of medically appropriate options for care. One of those options is medical aid in dying. Medical aid in dying allows terminally ill adults to request and receive a prescription for medication that they can decide to take to die peacefully in their sleep. As of June 2021, 11 U.S. jurisdictions have authorized this end-of-life care option, including Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Montana, California, Colorado, Hawai‘i, New Jersey, New Mexico, Maine and Washington, D.C.

The American public supports the option of medical aid in dying. The most recent Gallup survey, from May 2018, shows that 72% of voters support medical aid in dying, and this broad support spans nearly every demographic: from age to ethnic group, and from religious to political affiliation. 

Among the relatively small percentage of people who oppose medical aid-in-dying laws are some leaders in the disability rights community who fear that these laws pose a risk to people living with disabilities. These fears may have been reasonable in the early 1990s before any state in the U.S had ever passed a medical aid-in-dying law. But now, over two decades of experience and evidence from 11 jurisdictions show that medical aid-in-dying laws pose no risk to vulnerable populations, including those living with disabilities. 

In fact, the movement to expand end-of-life care options and the disability rights movement share important core values: autonomy, independence and self-determination. That’s why an increasing number of disability rights advocates are speaking out in favor of giving terminally ill adults the compassionate end-of-life care option of medical aid in dying.

Core safeguards embedded in medical aid-in-dying laws ensure that all terminally ill individuals pursuing this option are protected from coercion and abuse. Each of the U.S. laws authorizing medical aid in dying establishes strict core eligibility criteria and practice requirements to ensure the highest standard of care, as described in the clinical criteria and guidelines published in the prestigious, peer reviewed Journal of Palliative Medicine. To be eligible for aid-in-dying medication, an individual must be:

  • An adult (age 18 or older); 
  • Terminally ill with a prognosis of six months or less to live;
  • Mentally capable of making their own healthcare decisions; and
  • Able to self-ingest the medication.
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