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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

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”?
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)