Physician-Assisted Death in Iowa - Legislative Update
For the third year in a row a “Death with Dignity” bill has been introduced in the Iowa Legislature to legalize physician-assisted death in Iowa. It’s proposed short title is “Iowa Our Care, Our Options Act.” The proposed bill introduced in 2021 can be found by following this link. The proposed bill would decriminalize physician-assisted death in Iowa and set out requirements that the patient would need to met in order to be eligible for physician-assisted death. The bill would be limited to those Iowans who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Currently only 8 states legally permit physician-assisted death: Washington, Oregon, California, Hawaii, Colorado, Maine, Vermont, and New Jersey.
Current Iowa law provides that physicians who assist people with ending their own lives commit a Class C felony. The law is limited to actions by physicians that are intentionally aimed at ending the life of the patient. In other words, it is not a crime for a doctor to discontinue life-sustaining medical treatment if the patient had signed a living will instructing the physician to discontinue such treatment.
Regardless of whether the physician assisted bill advances in the Iowa legislature or not, problems can occasionally arise with life insurance benefits when the insured takes his or her own life. Most, if not all, life insurance policies have a “contestability” period of at least 2 years. That means that if the individual passes away within 2 years of purchasing the life insurance policy, the life insurance company can investigate the cause of death and refuse to pay benefits if the insured’s death is determined to be from suicide. This is an unfortunate paradox as those seeking a physician-assisted death may be doing so in part because they feel that they have become too much of a burden to family and loved ones. When a life insurance company contests the cause of death of an insured and refuses to pay benefits, the legal battle can be long, costly, and emotionally painful for the family members who are the intended beneficiaries of the policy.
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This Wandro & Associates Update is intended to inform firm clients and friends about legal developments, including recent decisions of various courts and administrative bodies. Nothing in this Practice Update should be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion, and readers should not act upon the information contained in this Update without seeking the advice of legal counsel.