Physician assisted suicide
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Physician Assisted Suicide. Jody Blanke, Professor Computer Information Systems and Law Mercer University, Atlanta. Ancient Rome. “It’s good to be King” (or Emperor) Convicted criminals forfeited real and personal property to the Emperor Suicide became a crime. English Common Law.

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Physician Assisted Suicide

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Physician assisted suicide

Physician Assisted Suicide

Jody Blanke, Professor

Computer Information Systems and Law

Mercer University, Atlanta


Ancient rome

Ancient Rome

  • “It’s good to be King” (or Emperor)

  • Convicted criminals forfeited real and personal property to the Emperor

  • Suicide became a crime


English common law

English Common Law

  • Still good to be King

  • Suicide also a crime, but punished by forfeiture of personal property only

  • Early American colonies adopted this rule, but over time, abolished forfeiture penalties

  • By Civil War, suicide is not a crime


United states today

United States Today

  • 35 states have statutes specifically banning assisted suicide

    • Another 9 criminalize it by common law

  • But competent adults have a right to refuse medical treatment


Karen anne quinlan

Karen Anne Quinlan

  • 1975 – Karen Anne Quinlan mixed drugs and alcohol and became comatose

  • Family sought court order to “pull the plug”

  • Order granted, but family convinced to wean her from respirator

  • She remained comatose for over 10 years, until her death in 1986


Living wills

Living Wills

  • In aftermath of Quinlan case, every state enacted some sort of living will

  • Most states also have some type of durable power of attorney


Nancy cruzan

Nancy Cruzan

  • 1983 – Nancy Cruzan was in a car accident and became comatose

  • Court refused to let parents “pull the plug” absent “clear and convincing proof” that that was what Nancy would have wanted

  • Supreme Court – state has sufficient interest to adopt this higher standard


Nancy cruzan cont

Nancy Cruzan (cont.)

  • Justice O’Connor – “safeguarding incompetents’ liberty interests is entrusted to the ‘laboratory’ of the states”

  • Epilogue – a “good friend” came forward with “clear and convincing” evidence that Nancy would not have wanted to live this way – she died in 1990


Dr kevorkian

Dr. Kevorkian

  • Assisted in many suicides in the 1990s

  • Some states enacted legislation in response e.g., Georgia

  • Finally, successfully prosecuted for murder – on the fourth try

    • Paroled in 2007 after serving 8 years of a 10-25 year sentence


Oregon s death with dignity act

Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act

  • Ballot initiative passed in 1994

  • Challenged in court

    • Becomes effective in 1997

  • Legal (societal) experiment

  • “Oregon, the Suicide State”?


Oregon s death with dignity act1

Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act


Oregon s death with dignity act2

Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act


Oregon s death with dignity act3

Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act


Supreme court cases

Supreme Court Cases

  • Washington v. Glucksberg, and Quill v. Vacco (1997)

  • Challenged bans on assisted suicide in Washington and New York states

  • “Fundamental liberty interest” and “equal protection” challenges denied

  • Court referred to Oregon and the “’laboratory’ of the states”


Terry schiavo

Terry Schiavo

  • 1990 – Terry Schiavo became comatose as a result of eating disorders

  • 1998 – husband sought order to remove feeding tube

  • 2005 – Schiavo died after feeding tube was removed - after 14 appeals, numerous motions and hearings, 5 federal suits, state legislation, federal legislation, and 4 denials of certiorari by the U.S. Supreme Court


Other states

Other States

  • Death with Dignity Act

    • Washington passed it in 2008

    • Vermont passed it in 2013

  • Montana

    • First Judicial Court ruled that a terminally ill patient has a right to die under the Montana Constitution (2008)

    • Montana Supreme Court held that physician assisted suicide is not banned by state law, but did not address the issue of whether there is a constitutionally protected right to die (2009)


The netherlands

The Netherlands

  • Decriminalized physician assisted suicide in 1993

  • Legalized it in 2002

  • “Intolerable suffering”


The netherlands1

The Netherlands

The law allows medical review board to suspend prosecution of doctors who performed euthanasia when each of the following conditions is fulfilled:

  • the patient's suffering is unbearable with no prospect of improvement

  • the patient's request for euthanasia must be voluntary and persist over time (the request can not be granted when under the influence of others, psychological illness or drugs)

  • the patient must be fully aware of his/her condition, prospects and options

  • there must be consultation with at least one other independent doctor who needs to confirm the conditions mentioned above

  • the death must be carried out in a medically appropriate fashion by the doctor or patient, in which case the doctor must be present

  • the patient is at least 12 years old (patients between 12 and 16 years of age require the consent of their parents)


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