Huffington Post | Pat LaMarche
The majority of U.S. states make it illegal for anyone to take their own life or receive assistance in taking their own life. More than 30 of these states have laws on the books specifically identifying assisted suicide as a crime. A number of states address the concept of assisted suicide in the common law classifications while one state -- Montana -- has had the criminalization of physician assisted suicide nullified in court.
There are only two states -- Oregon and Washington -- that have specifically legalized physician assisted suicide. There, residents who are terminally ill and doomed to a horrific death would seemingly have the best possible outcome for their otherwise tragic situation.
But -- like many well intended laws passed across the U.S. -- the effective reality of physician assisted suicide falls far from its intended mark. Curtis Johnson, a 55-year-old business man and educator who suffers from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis otherwise known as ALS, finds that even though he lives in Washington he cannot get the assistance he needs to end his suffering when the time comes.
ALS rarely kills someone in less than a year. Tragically, in Johnson's case, the disease has progressed so rapidly that within a few months of his diagnosis he faced the dilemma of picking when he will die. He could have much more time to live if the law did not require him to administer the lethal drugs himself. If Washington State allowed a physician to physically assist his suicide, Johnson could wait until long after his hands stopped working to end his life.
This week Johnson penned a "Final Essay" for his family and friends. He wrote that the "lack of any real assistance" means he won't be able to hang on between when he loses the motor skills necessary to take his life and when he actually needs a merciful end to his suffering.