On Tuesday voters in Washington state approved an assisted suicide law similar to Oregon's Death With Dignity Act by a 58-to-42-percent margin. Washington is only the second state with such a law, which allows patients who are certified as terminally ill to obtain prescriptions for barbiturates they can use to end their lives. This option is not a huge advance for liberty. Only people who want to kill themselves for what the government considers a legitimate reason are eligible, and they have to go through a state-mandated ritual: clearance from two doctors who agree they are likely to die within six months, two oral requests at least 15 days apart, and a written request signed by two witnesses. As Thomas Szasz has noted, this whole humiliating procedure could be avoided if the government did not presume to restrict adults' access to drugs. Still, laws like Oregon's and Washington's do make some people in some circumstances a bit freer. Furthermore, the clash over this issue between Oregon and the Bush administration, which wanted to prevent the use of prescriptions for suicide, led to a Supreme Court decision that preserved some measure of federalism in the regulation of medicine, even in the wake of the Court's medical marijuana decision.
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