President Jimmy Carter is teaching the world that his end of life is just as important as how he lived his life.

By choosing to seek hospice care in February of 2023, Carter has helped educate people that hospice does not necessarily mean that the person is actively dying. Many people receive hospice care for extended periods of time and can graduate from hospice if their health improves. Carter’s journey underscores the importance of conversations surrounding end-of-life care and a person’s desires and beliefs, at the same time the United States needs comprehensive legislation supporting death with dignity.

Hospice and palliative care both emphasize comfort and quality of life for individuals facing terminal illness, providing holistic support to both patients and their families. For Carter, this decision reflects his values of compassion and dignity, echoing his lifetime of service to others.

However, Carter’s situation also brings to light the broader issue of a person’s end-of-life choices and the legal framework surrounding them. Death-with-dignity laws, also known as physician-assisted dying or aid-in-dying legislation, allow terminally ill patients to request medication to end their lives peacefully and on their terms. These laws provide individuals with autonomy and control over their final days, offering a compassionate option for those facing unbearable suffering.

Patchwork of death-with-dignity laws

My father suffered for years from pain that was unmanageable and untreatable. Unfortunately, he lived in a state that did not allow for physician-assisted dying. Had this option been available to my dad, he would have used it; instead, his death was painful for him and his family.

Currently, death-with-dignity laws vary significantly across the US. While some states have enacted comprehensive legislation, others have yet to address this critical issue. West Virgina and Indiana are trying to pass legislation that would restrict a person’s end-of-life choices. Illinois and New York have both introduced legislation this year that would ensure that if someone is terminally ill and wants to end their life peacefully, they can ask a doctor for assistance. They must go through a mental competency test and be capable of making this decision on their own. Once they have been through the approval process, they can choose their time and place of death. They must be able to take the medicine without

The lack of laws giving access to end-of-life options leaves many individuals without the ability to make deeply personal decisions about their own care. Some are known to try this without the assistance of a medical professional and often they wind up suffering more, because things did not go according to their plan.

I hope others will commit to advocating for the rights of all individuals to die with dignity. By supporting pending legislation and fostering open dialogue about end-of-life care, we can create a more compassionate and equitable society for generations to come. Together, we can ensure that every person’s journey ends with the respect and dignity they deserve.

Carrie Leljedal is a program manager with The Live Oak Project. She also serves on the board for Gray Panthers NYC and co-chairs its monthly Transformation Tuesdays webinars. She has been an Illinois Caregivers for Compromise state spokesperson and family advocate. Her work with the Illinois Department of Public Health, the Illinois Ombudsman program, Illinois AARP and state legislators helped lead to Essential Caregiver legislation in Illinois. SB2322 passed unanimously in Illinois in May of 2023 and was enacted into law on June 30.