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Chronology of Euthanasia and Right-to-Die Events During the 20th Century and into the Millennium

1900 - 2013


  • 1906 - First euthanasia bill drafted in Ohio. It does not succeed.
  • 1935 - World’s first euthanasia society is founded in London, England.
  • 1938 - The Euthanasia Society of America is founded by the Rev. Charles Potter in New York.


  • 1954 - Joseph Fletcher publishes Morals and Medicine, predicting the coming controversy over the right to die.
  • 1957 - Pope Pius XII issues Catholic doctrine distinguishing ordinary from extraordinary means for sustaining life.
  • 1958 - Oxford law professor Glanville Williams publishes The Sanctity of Life and the Criminal Law, proposing that voluntary euthanasia be allowed for competent, terminally ill patients.
  • 1958 - Lael Wertenbaker publishes Death of a Man describing how she helped her husband commit suicide. It is the first book in this genre.


  • 1967 - The first living will is written by attorney Louis Kutner and his arguments for it appear in the Indiana Law Journal.
  • 1967 - A right-to-die bill is introduced by Dr. Walter W. Sackett in Florida’s legislature. It arouses extensive debate but is unsuccessful.
  • 1968 - Doctors at Harvard Medical School propose redefining death to include brain death as well as heart-lung death. Gradually this definition is accepted.
  • 1969 - Voluntary euthanasia bill introduced in the Idaho legislation. It fails.
  • 1969 - Elisabeth Kubler-Ross publishes On Death and Dying, opening discussion of the once-taboo subject of death.


  • 1970 - The Euthanasia Society (US) finishes distributing 60,000 living wills.
  • 1973 - American Hospital Association creates Patient Bill of Rights, which includes informed consent and the right to refuse treatment.
  • 1973 - Dr. Gertruida Postma, who gave her dying mother a lethal injection, receives light sentence in the Netherlands. The furor launches the euthanasia movement in that country (NVVE).
  • 1974 - The Euthanasia Society in New York renamed the Society for the Right to Die. The first hospice American hospice opens in New Haven, Conn.
  • 1975 - Deeply religious Van Dusens commit suicide. Henry P. Van Dusen, 77, and his wife, Elizabeth, 80, leaders of the Christian ecumenical movement, choose to die rather than suffer from disabling conditions. Their note reads, “We still feel this is the best way and the right way to go.”
  • 1975 - Dutch Voluntary Euthanasia Society (NVVE) launches its Members’ Aid Service to give advice to the dying. Receives 25 requests for aid in the first year.
  • 1976 - The New Jersey Supreme Court allows Karen Ann Quinlan’s parents to disconnect the respirator that keeps her alive, saying it is affirming the choice Karen herself would have made. Quinlan case becomes a legal landmark. But she lives on for another eight years.
  • 1976 - California Natural Death Act is passed. The nation’s first aid in dying statute gives legal standing to living wills and protects physicians from being sued for failing to treat incurable illnesses.
  • 1976 - Ten more U.S. states pass natural death laws.
  • 1976 - First international meeting of right-to-die groups. Six are represented in Tokyo.
  • 1977 - A people's initiative asking the Swiss Federal Parliament to install euthanasia for incurable ill people in the Swiss canton of Zurich is passed by 203,148 votes to 144,822. But the Federal Parliament does not follow the initiative.
  • 1978 - Doris Portwood publishes landmark book Commonsense Suicide: The Final Right. It argues that old people in poor health might justifiably kill themselves.
  • 1978 - Whose Life Is It Anyway?, a play about a young artist who becomes quadriplegic, is staged in London and on Broadway, raising disturbing questions about the right to die. A film version appears in 1982. Simultaneously, Jean’s Way is published in England by Derek Humphry, describing how he helped his terminally ill wife to die.
  • 1979 - Artist Jo Roman, dying of cancer, commits suicide at a much-publicized gathering of friends that is later broadcast on public television and reported by the New York Times.
  • 1979 - Two right-to-die organizations split. The Society for the Right to Die separates from Concern for Dying, a companion group that grew out of the Society’s Euthanasia Education Council.


  • 1980 - Advice column Dear Abby publishes a letter from a reader agonizing over a dying loved one, generating 30,000 advance care directive requests at the Society for the Right to Die.
  • 1980 - Pope John Paul II issues Declaration in Euthanasia opposing mercy killing but permits the greater use of painkillers to ease pain and the right to refuse extraordinary means for sustaining life.
  • 1980 - Hemlock Society is founded in Santa Monica, California, by Derek Humphry. It advocates legal change and distributes how to die information. This launches the campaign for assisted dying in America. Hemlock’s national membership will grow to 50,000 within a decade. Right to die societies are also formed the same year in France, Germany and Canada.
  • 1980 - World Federation of Right to Die Societies is formed in Oxford, England. It comprises 27 groups from 18 nations.
  • 1981 - Hemlock publishes how-to suicide guide, Let Me Die Before I Wake, the first such book on open sale.
  • 1982 - EXIT ADMD Suisse Romande (French-speaking part of Switzerland) is founded, followed in April by EXIT (Deutsche Schweiz) German-speaking part of Switzerland as well as Italian speaking part). Both give at first only information to their members, and after at least three months of membership also printed advice how to end one's own life. Later they began to offer assistance to suicide; first with a combination of medicaments, later with pentobarbital sodium prescribed by a physician. Assistance to suicide in Switzerland is possible for everybody since there is no law regulating it. The basis is Article 115 of the Swiss Crimimal Code saying that abetting and helping to suicide for selfish motives is punished with up to five years of imprisonment; if somebody acts without selfish mobile, there is no crime.
  • 1983 - Famous author (Darkness at Noon etc) Arthur Koestler, terminally ill, commits suicide a year after publishing his reasons. His wife Cynthia, not dying, chooses to commit suicide with him.
  • 1983 - Elizabeth Bouvia, a quadriplegic suffering from cerebral palsy, sues a California hospital to let her die of self-starvation while receiving comfort care. She loses, and files an appeal.
  • 1984 - Advance care directives become recognized in 22 states and the District of Columbia.
  • 1984 - The Netherlands Supreme Court approves voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide under strict conditions.
  • 1985 - Karen Ann Quinlan dies.
  • 1985 - Betty Rollin publishes Last Wish, her account of helping her mother to die after a long losing battle with breast cancer. The book becomes a bestseller.
  • 1986 - Roswell Gilbert, 76, sentenced in Florida to 25 years without parole for shooting his terminally ill wife. Granted clemency five years later.
  • 1986 - Elizabeth Bouvia is granted the right to refuse force feeding by an appeals court. But she declines to take advantage of the permission and is still alive in 1998.
  • 1987 - The California State Bar Conference passes Resolution #3-4-87 to become the first public body to approve of physician aid in dying.
  • 1988 - Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations passes a national resolution favoring aid in dying for the terminally ill, becoming the first religious body to affirm a right to die.


  • 1990 - American Medical Association adopts the formal position that with informed consent, a physician can withhold or withdraw treatment from a patient who is close to death, and may also discontinue life support of a patient in a permanent coma.
  • 1990 - Dr. Jack Kevorkian assists in the death of Janet Adkins, a middle-aged woman with Alzheimer’s disease. Kevorkian subsequently flaunts the Michigan legislature’s attempts to stop him from assisting in additional suicides.
  • 1990 - Supreme Court decides the Cruzan case, its first aid in dying ruling. The decision recognizes that competent adults have a constitutionally protected liberty interest that includes a right to refuse medical treatment; the court also allows a state to impose procedural safeguards to protect its interests.
  • 1990 - Hemlock of Oregon introduces the Death With Dignity Act into the Oregon legislature via senator Frank Roberts. The bill fails to get out of committee.
  • 1990 - Congress passes the Patient Self-Determination Act, requiring hospitals that receive federal funds to tell patients that they have a right to demand or refuse treatment. It takes effect the next year.
  • 1991 - Dr. Timothy Quill writes about “Diane” in the New England Journal of Medicine, describing his provision of lethal drugs to a leukemia patient who chose to die at home by her own hand rather than undergo therapy that offered a 25 percent chance of survival.
  • 1991 - Nationwide Gallup poll finds that 75 percent of Americans approve of living wills.
  • 1991 - Derek Humphry publishes Final Exit, a how-to book on self-deliverance. The book immediately sells 540,000 hardcover copies and tops USA bestseller lists. It is translated into twelve other languages. Nearly two decades later it is still a big seller in paperback and digital download. Total sales exceed one million.
  • 1991 - Choice in Dying is formed by the merger of two aid in dying organizations, Concern for Dying and Society for the Right to Die. The new organization becomes known for defending patients’ rights and promoting living wills, and will grow in five years to 150,000 members.
  • 1991 - Washington State voters reject Ballot Initiative 119, which would have legalized physician-aided suicide and aid in dying. The vote is 54-46 percent.
  • 1992 - Final Exit (in translation Exit Final) is banned in France under a 1986 law, but sells freely in the rest of the world.
  • 1992 - California voters defeat Proposition 161, which would have allowed physicians to hasten death by actively administering or prescribing medications for self administration by suffering, terminally ill patients. The vote is 54-46 percent.
  • 1993 - Derek Humphry starts ERGO (Euthanasia Research and Guidance Organization) a nonprofit group to research and publish literature on the right to die.
  • 1993 - Compassion in Dying is founded in Washington state to counsel the terminally ill and provide information about how to die without suffering and “with personal assistance, if necessary, to intentionally hasten death.” The group sponsors suits challenging state laws against assisted suicide.
  • 1993 - President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton publicly support advance directives and sign living wills, acting after the death of Hugh Rodham, Hillary’s father.
  • 1993 - Despairing of legislation progress, Oregon Right to Die, a political action committee, is founded to write and subsequently to pass the Oregon Death with Dignity Act by citizen’s ballot initiative.
  • 1994 - More presidential living wills are revealed. After the deaths of former President Richard Nixon and former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, it is reported that both had signed advance directives.
  • 1994 - All states and the District of Columbia now recognize some type of advance directive procedure.
  • 1994 - Washington State’s anti-suicide law is overturned. In Compassion v. Washington, a district court finds that a law outlawing assisted suicide violates the 14th Amendment. Judge Rothstein writes, “The court does not believe that a distinction can be drawn between refusing life-sustaining medical treatment and physician-assisted suicide by an uncoerced, mentally competent, terminally ill adult.”
  • 1994 - In New York State, the lawsuit Quill et al v. Koppell is filed to challenge the New York law prohibiting assisted suicide. Quill loses, and files an appeal.
  • 1994 - Oregon voters approve Measure 16, a Death With Dignity Act ballot initiative that would permit terminally ill patients, under proper safeguards, to obtain a physician’s prescription to end life in a humane and dignified manner. The vote is 51-49 percent. But U.S. District Court Judge Michael Hogan issues a temporary restraining order against Oregon’s Measure 16, following that with an injunction immediately barring the state from putting the law into effect.
  • 1995 - Washington State’s Compassion ruling is overturned by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, reinstating the anti suicide law.
  • 1995 - U.S. District Judge Hogan rules that Oregon Measure 16, the Death with Dignity Act, is unconstitutional on grounds it violates the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution. His ruling is immediately appealed.
  • 1995 - Surveys find that doctors disregard most advance directives. Journal of the American Medical Association reports that physicians were unaware of the directives of three-quarters of all elderly patients admitted to a New York hospital; the California Medical Review reports that three-quarters of all advance directives were missing from Medicare records in that state.
  • 1995 - Oral arguments in the appeal of Quill v. Vacco contest the legality of New York’s anti-suicide law before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.
  • 1995 - Compassion case is reconsidered in Washington state by a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel of eleven judges, the largest panel ever to hear a physician-assisted suicide case.
  • 1996 - The Northern Territory of Australia passes voluntary euthanasia law. Nine months later the Federal Parliament quashes it. Only four hastened deaths took place under this law, all performed by one doctor, Philip Nitschke.
  • 1996 - The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reverses the Compassion finding in Washington state, holding that “a liberty interest exists in the choice of how and when one dies, and that the provision of the Washington statute banning assisted suicide, as applied to competent, terminally ill adults who wish to hasten their deaths by obtaining medication prescribed by their doctors, violates the Due Process Clause.” The ruling affects laws of nine western states. It is stayed pending appeal to the US Supreme Court.
  • 1996 - A Michigan jury acquits Dr. Kevorkian of violating a state law banning
  • 1996 - The Second Circuit Court of Appeals reverses the Quill finding, ruling that “The New York statutes criminalizing assisted suicide violate the Equal Protection Clause because, to the extent that they prohibit a physician from prescribing medications to be self-administered by a mentally competent, terminally ill person in the final stages of his terminal illness, they are not rationally related to any legitimate state interest.” The ruling affects laws in New York, Vermont and Connecticut. (On 17 April the court stays enforcement of its ruling for 30 days pending an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.)
  • 1996 - The U.S. Supreme Court announces that it will review both cases sponsored by Compassion in Dying, known now as Washington v. Glucksberg and Quill v. Vacco.
  • 1997 - ACLU attorney Robert Rivas files an amended complaint challenging the 128 year-old Florida law banning assisted suicide. Charles E. Hall, who has AIDS asks court permission for a doctor to assist his suicide. The court refuses.
  • 1997 - On May 13 the Oregon House of Representatives votes 32-26 to return Measure 16 to the voters in November for repeal (H.B. 2954). On June 10 the Senate votes 20-10 to pass H.B. 2954 and return Measure 16 to the voters for repeal. No similar attempt to overturn the will of the voters has been tried in Oregon since 1908.
  • 1997 - On 26 June the U.S. Supreme Court reverses the decisions of the Ninth and Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington v. Glucksberg and Quill v. Vacco, upholding as constitutional state statutes which bar assisted suicide. However, the court also validated the concept of “double effect,” openly acknowledging that death hastened by increased palliative measures does not constitute prohibited conduct so long as the intent is the relief of pain and suffering. The majority opinion ended with the pronouncement that “Throughout the nation, Americans are engaged in an earnest and profound debate about the morality, legality and practicality of physician-assisted suicide. Our holding permits this debate to continue, as it should in a democratic society.”
  • 1997 - Dutch Voluntary Euthanasia Society (NVVE) reports its membership now more than 90,000, of whom 900 made requests for help in dying to its Members’ Aid Service.
  • 1997 - Britain’s Parliament rejects by 234 votes to 89 the seventh attempt in 60 years to change the law on assisted suicide, despite polls showing 82 percent of British people want reform.
  • 1997 - On November 4 the people of Oregon vote by a margin of 60-40 percent against Measure 51, which would have repealed the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, 1994. The law officially takes effect (ORS 127.800-897) on October 27 when court challenges are disposed of. Actual implementation of the law starts on the first day of 1998.
  • 1998 - Dr. Kevorkian assists the suicide of his 92nd patient in eight years. His home state, Michigan, passes new law making such actions a crime. It took effect September, 1 1998, but Kevorkian carries on helping people to die -- 120 by November.
  • 1998 - Oregon Health Services Commission decides that payment for physician-assisted suicide can come from state funds under the Oregon Health Plan so that the poor will not be discriminated against.
  • 1998 - 16 people die by making use of the Oregon Death With Dignity Act, receiving physician-assisted suicide in its first full year of implementation.
  • 1998 - Measure B on the Michigan ballot to legalize physician-assisted suicide defeated by 70-30 percent.
  • 1998 - The Swiss association DIGNITAS (To live with Dignity, To die with Dignity) is founded; it offers assisted suicide and is the first Swiss organization also accepting members from abroad.
  • 1999 - Dr. Kevorkian sentenced to 10-25 years imprisonment for the 2nd degree murder of Thomas Youk after showing video of death by injection on national television. His appeals are dismissed.


  • 2000 - Citizens’ Ballot Initiative in Maine to approve the lawfulness of Physician-Assisted Suicide narrowly defeated 51-49 percent.
  • 2001 - MS victim Diane Pretty asks UK court to allow her husband to help her commit suicide. The London High Court, the House of Lords, and the Court of Human Rights, in Strasbourg, all say no. She dies in hospice a few weeks later.
  • 2002 - Dutch law allowing voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide takes effect on 1 Febrt suicide. The London High Court, the House of Lords, and the Court of Human Rights, in Strasbourg, all say no. She dies in hospice a few weeks later.
  • 2002 - Dutch law allowing voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide takes effect on 1 February. For 20 years previously it had been permitted under guidelines.
  • 2002 - Belgium passes similar law to the Dutch, allowing both voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.
  • 2003 - US Attorney-General Ashcroft asks the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal to reverse the finding of a lower court judge that the Oregon Death With Dignity Act 1994 does not contravene federal powers. 129 dying people have used this law over the last five years to obtain legal physician-assisted suicide. The losers of this appeal ask the US Supreme Court to rule, which it agrees to do.
  • 2003 - UK parliament rejects the Patient (Assisted Dying) Bill introduced by Lord Joffe. Identical to the Oregon law, it was fiercely opposed by the churches. This was the eighth time in 60 years that a right to die was refused by the London parliament.
  • 2004 - Famed psychiatrist Elizabeth Kuber-Ross (best known for book On Death and Dying) dies at age 78 in Arizona.
  • 2004 - Hemlock Society USA is renamed End-of-Life Choices and within months is merged with Compassion in Dying to become Compassion & Choices (C&C). This causes the Final Exit Network to be formed from the ashes of Hemlock to develop a system of volunteer guides across America to help dying people who request assistance.
  • 2004 - Lesley Martin in New Zealand completes a seven-month prison sentence for the attempted murder by morphine overdose of her terminally ill mother. Vows to continue to work for lawful voluntary euthanasia.
  • 2005 - Terri Shiavo in Florida allowed to die after 14 years in a persistent vegetative state. President Bush, Republicans and right to life group fought to keep her on life supports but courts maintained she had the right to be allowed to die.
  • 2006 - US Supreme Court refuses the Attorney-General’s application to repeal the Oregon Death With Dignity Act. Bush administration wanted America’s only physician-assisted suicide law struck down on the grounds that states do not control lethal drugs. But Oregon state successfully argued that states control medical practice and that the drugs required for this form of death were never meant to be banned.
  • 2006 - Dr. Philip Nitschke publishes The Peaceful Pill Handbook outlining ways to bring one’s own life to an end. It is immediately banned in his own country, Australia, also in New Zealand, but sells throughout the rest of the world.
  • 2007 - Dr. Jack Kevorkian released from prison on parole. He had served nine years. He helped some 130 people to die, all within his home area.
  • 2008 - During its first ten years, 341 terminal patients are recorded as having used the Oregon Death With Dignity Act to accelerate their ends.
  • 2008 - Voters in State of Washington approve by 59-41 percent a physician-assisted suicide law similar to that in Oregon. In the first year, 63 people are recorded as having used it.
  • 2009 - Montana Supreme Court rules that physician-assisted suicide is not against the constitutional law in that state.


  • 2010 - Court cases against volunteers of the Final Exit Network in Georgia and Arizona for alleged criminal assisted suicides are postponed indefinitely by the prosecutions whilst more evidence is sought.
  • 2010 - England & Wales Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer publishes a final draft of the 'Policy for Prosecutors in Respect of Cases of Encouraging or Assisting Suicide.' This policy is a formal guidance for the Crown Prosecution Service on the decision to bring charges in assisted suicide cases.
  • 2010 - First annual lecture of the newly-formed Society for Old Age Raional Suicide (SOARS) is given in Brighton (England) by the distinguished philosopher and educator Lady Mary Warnock.
  • 2011 - After a 2-week trial, "an Arizona jury acquits Dr. Lawrence Egbert in the suicide of Jana Van Voorhis, whom prosecutors said had help killing herself. Egbert, who also is indicted in Georgia on charges that he helped a Cumming man with cancer kill himself, was one of four people charged by Arizona authorities in Van Voorhis' death. Jurors could not reach a verdict for a co-defendant, Frank Langsner. Maricopa County prosecutors said the other two defendants in the case, Wye Hale-Rowe and Roberta Massey, had pleaded guilty to one count of facilitation to commit manslaughter and had agreed to testify in the case.
  • 2011 - Sharlotte Hydorn, 92, a retired school teacher who was selling helium hood kits designed to help people commit suicide, pleaded guilty in federal court in San Diego to a misdemeanor charge of failing to file a tax return. According to court records, Hydorn sold approximately 1,300 suicide kits since 2007.
  • 2012 - Final Exit Network, Inc., vs. State of Georgia (S11A1960). Georgia Supreme Court unanimously strikes down the state's assisted-suicide law, finding it violates the free speech clauses of the Georgia and US Constitutions. The court's ruling means that four members of the Final Exit Network (FEN) do not have to stand trial on felony charges in Forsyth County. They were charged in connection with the 2008 suicide of 58-year-old John Celmer, who killed himself two years after he had been diagnosed with cancer.
  • 2012 - World's first mobile euthanasia unit begins to operate in the Netherlands. According to the The Daily Mail in London, "the units will be dispatched when family doctors refuse to administer lethal drugs on 'ethical' grounds. They are expected to send the number of euthanasia cases in Holland soaring, with pro-campaigners claiming they will end the lives of an additional 1,000 patients a year. The units will euthanise patients by administering a strong sedative to put them in a coma, followed by a drug to stop them breathing. Officially, 2,700 Dutch people a year choose assisted suicide."
  • 2012 - Book "In Search of Gentle Death: The fight for your right to die with dignity" by Richard N. Côté (with a foreword by Derek Humphry), published by Corinthian Books, SC.
  • 2012 - A 92-year-old Southern California woman who acknowledged selling helium hood kits intended to help people commit suicide has been sentenced to five years supervised probation for failing to file federal tax returns. U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernard Skomal also ordered Sharlotte Hydorn to not participate in any way in assisting suicides, including in the manufacture of devices or as an adviser to others on the subject.
  • 2012 - State of Georgia (USA) Senate passes bill making assisting in a suicide a crime. Statement by Robert Rivas: "The Georgia Senate, by a vote of 48 to 1, passed a bill today (03.27.12) to make 'assisting in a suicide' a crime, punishable by one to ten years in prison. The Senate bill was a reaction to the Supreme Court of Georgia’s decision, on February 6, 2012, declaring the existing law unconstitutional in violation of First Amendment free speech principles. The Supreme Court ruling terminated the prosecution of the “Georgia Four,” Final Exit Network volunteers who had been arrested and charged in February 2009 under the old law. The Georgia House passed a similar bill on March 7.
  • 2012 - International Congress of World Federation of Right-to-Die Societies (WFRtDS), Zürich (Switzerland). Hosted by "EXIT Deutsche Schweiz - on behalf of their sister society ADMD Suisse Romande.
  • 2013 - Vermont became the first legislature in US to pass a physician-assisted suicide law. (Oregon and Washington passed their laws via citizen initiative vote; Montana's came about through a court case.)
  • 2014 (planned) - International Congress of the World Federation of Right To Die Societies. September 17-21, 2014 at the Embassy Suites Downtown/Lakefront Hotel, Chicago, Illinois. Held every two years around the world, this years conference is hosted by the Final Exit Network. Conference details at

SOURCE: Euthanasia Research & Guidance Organization (ERGO)

© copyright ERGO 2005. This chronology is available for scholarly use but may not be reproduced for commercial purposes without the written permission of ERGO


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