Death with Dignity or Criminal Act?

"Inserting the federal government between a patient and a doctor is really dangerous," said Peggy Sandeen, executive director of the Death with Dignity National Center, which is representing the physicians and paying for the legal defense.

"Physicians need to be responsible for being able to give good pain management. They're educated, they know the patient's medical history," Sandeen added. "And we don't want doctors to fear DEA agents. We want them to be able to practice medicine."

Stevens, from the physicians' group opposing the law, said that federal laws already apply to doctors. "I think it deals specifically with federally controlled substances. Certainly we have a lot of federal control," he said, noting that a federal registration is required to prescribe medications. "We can't have each state exempting itself from a national standard for substances."

From Miller's standpoint, the issue is about families helping their loved ones. "The value of this law lies in the way it makes room for individual choices," she said. "Not everyone would or should do what Rick did. Everyone has a different way of approaching their own demise, and I wouldn't expect everyone else to do this.

"On the other hand, for people like Rick, it really matters that they have control over this one last part of their lives," she added. "It doesn't hurt anyone. It doesn't change how anyone would deal with their individual choices … to me, that's what the American way is all about."

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