A look at the legality of assisted suicide in the U.S. and around the world:
In the United States, only Oregon, Washington state and Montana permit physician-assisted suicide. Oregon and Washington passed laws, and Montana's Supreme Court determined that assisted suicide is a medical treatment.
The Oregon law took effect in 1997. It states that an adult who has been determined by doctors to be suffering from a terminal disease, and who has voluntarily expressed a wish to die, may make a written request for medication for the purpose of ending his or her life in a humane and dignified manner.
The Washington law approved in 2008 was modeled after Oregon's but states that the attending physician shall list the underlying terminal disease as the cause of death on the patient's death certificate.
The Montana Supreme Court ruled in December 2009 that physicians may assist patients in ending their lives with a lethal dose of drugs. The court said the state's living-will law provides the basis for the practice.
Worldwide, only the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg permit euthanasia and assisted suicide. If a third party performs the last act that causes a patient's death, such as a lethal injection, euthanasia has occurred. If the person who dies performs the last act, the death is considered an assisted suicide.
In other countries:
_ Switzerland: The nation's highest court recently ruled that deciding on one's own death is a human right, regardless of whether a person is terminally ill. Swiss voters have consistently backed the current practice, including allowing foreigners to come to Switzerland for the purpose of taking their lives.
_ Australia's Northern Territory in 1995 approved a euthanasia bill. It took effect in 1996 but was overturned by the Australian Parliament in 1997.
_ Colombia's Supreme Court in 1997 ruled that penalties for mercy killing should be removed. However, the ruling does not go into effect until guidelines are approved by the Colombian Congress, which has never happened.
Sources: Associated Press, Patients' Rights Council, the World Federation of Right to Die Societies.