The Constitutional Dilemma Revolving Around Physician Assisted Suicide

New York’s court of appeal recently ruled against physician assisted suicide. The claim was made against the Attorney General by three chronically ill patients. The court defined physician assisted suicide as the right of a terminally ill and mentally competent person to acquire a prescription for a deadly medication from a doctor, to be taken for the purpose of causing death. The plaintiff’s argument was that physician assisted suicide was a constitutional right. The court held that there is no right to suicide; however, there is the right to cease relying on life-sustaining treatment. The court’s ruling, based on a rational standard of review, was that the act of criminalizing physician promoted suicide was meant to prevent suicide and protect patients from abuse.

A Background on Physician Assisted Suicide Laws

For a long time, U.S. law enforcement agencies have struggled with the right to die. In 2016, a “Death with Dignity” bill was approved by the District of Columbia Council. The bill was passed by an 11-2 vote. The bill permitted patients with terminal illnesses to end their lives without a physician’s help. According to the bill, a patient who is terminally ill, at least 18 years of age, a resident of Washington DC, and capable of making their health care decisions, is eligible to make a request to end their life. The bill does not permit physicians to agree with a patient’s requests. It further prohibits physicians from giving patients medication if they are suffering from mental disorders or depression.

The bill is similar to another passed in 1997, the “Oregon Death with Dignity Act”. In 2006, the Oregon statute was upheld by the Supreme Court. In 2008, the First Judicial District of Montana passed a ruling protecting physicians from prosecution for providing terminally ill patients with lethal drugs. Washington and Vermont followed suit by approving similar initiatives in 2008 and 2013 respectively.

The California Superior Court recently went on record for rejecting a challenge to the state’s aid in dying law. Colorado also approved a proposition to grant terminally ill patients the right to administer lethal medication after the approval of two physicians.

In February 2017, the “Death with Dignity” bill was blocked by the House. During the same time, Montana introduced a bill that would see doctors involved in physician assisted suicide charged with homicide. In May, physician assisted dying was approved by the Nevada Senate.

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