A recent cover of People magazine featured the story of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman with brain cancer who had an­nounced the date she would end her own life. She had moved to Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal. Maynard wanted to make sure that she could be prescribed a drug so that she could end her life and reduce her suffering and that of her family.

This is a familiar argument. When former archbishop of Canterbury George Carey recently announced his support for a bill to legalize assisted suicide in the United Kingdom, he cited the need to reduce unnecessary suffering. Others argue that individuals have the right to control their own dying and that such a right includes being able to get a prescription for a lethal dose of drugs.

In the United States, assisted suicide has mostly been a hard sell. Since Oregon legalized physician-assisted suicide in 1994, more than 140 legislative proposals in 27 states have failed. Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont, and Arizona are the only states where physician-assisted suicide is legal.