Idaho Strengthens Law Against Assisted-Suicide

By Margaret Dore

On April 5, 2011, Idaho Governor Butch Otto signed Senate Bill 1070 into law.[1]  The bill explicitly provides that causing or aiding a suicide is a felony.[2]  

Senate bill 1070 supplements existing Idaho law, which already imposed civil and criminal liability on doctors and others who cause or aid a suicide.[3]  The bill's "Statement of Purpose" says:  "This legislation will supplement existing common law and statutory law by confirming that it is illegal to cause or assist in the suicide of another."[4]

The bill was introduced in response to efforts by Compassion & Choices to legalize physician-assisted suicide in Idaho.  The issue came to a head after that organization's legal director wrote articles claiming that the practice, which she called "aid in dying, was already legal in Idaho.  Compassion & Choices was formerly known as the Hemlock Society.[5]

The legal director's articles included "Aid in Dying:  Law, Geography and Standard of Care in Idaho," published in The Advocate, the official publication of the Idaho State Bar.[6]  Responding letters to the editor stated that the article was "a gross misunderstanding of Idaho law" and that "[f]alse claims about what the law of Idaho actually is, published in The Advocate, cannot possibly benefit public debate on this issue."

These letters and other letters can be viewed herehere and here.  A direct rebuttal to the article can be viewed here.

The vote to pass the new bill was overwhelming: the Senate vote was 31 to 2; the house vote was 61 to 8.[7]  The new law will be codified as Idaho Code Ann. Section 18-4017 and go into effect on July 1, 2011.[8]

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[1]  Bill Status S1070, entry for April 5, 2011.
[2]  See here for bill text.
[3]  Then existing civil law included Cramer v. Slater, 146 Idaho 868, 878, 204 P.3d 508 (2009), which states that doctors "can be held liable for [a] patient's suicide."  Existing law also included a common law crime in which an "aider and abettor" of suicide is guilty of murder.  Assisted suicide can also be statutorily charged as murder.  See Margaret K. Dore, "Aid in Dying: Not Legal in Idaho; Not About Choice," The Advocate, official publication of the Idaho State Bar, Vol. 52, No. 9, pages 18-20, September 2010 (describing existing law prior to the new bill's enactment); and The Hon. Robert E. Bakes, Retired Chief Justice of the Idaho Supreme Court, Letter to the Editor, "Legislature rejected euthanasia," The Advocate, September 2010 ("in both the Idaho criminal statutes as well as I.C.6-1012, the Idaho legislature has rejected physician-assisted suicide").  Entire issue, available here:
[4]  Revised Statement of Purpose, RS20288. 
[5]  Ian Dowbiggin, A CONCISE HISTORY OF EUTHANASIA: LIFE, DEATH, GOD AND MEDICINE,  Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 146, (2007) (In 2003, Hemlock changed its name to End-of-Life Choices, which merged with Compassion in Dying in 2004, to form Compassion & Choices).
[6]  Kathryn Tucker & Christine Salmi, "Aid in Dying:  Law, Geography and Standard of Care in Idaho," The Advocate, the official publication of the Idaho State Bar Association, No. 8, pp.42-45 (August 2010), available at
[7]  Bill Status S1070, entries for March 11, 2011 and March 28, 2011.
[8]  See Bill Status S1070, last entry.