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The Case For Euthanasia, Should Physician Assisted Suicide Be Legalized?

1534 words - 6 pages

Throughout the twentieth century, major scientific and medical advances have greatly enhanced the life expectancy of the average person. However, there are many instances where doctors can preserve life artificially. In these cases where the patient suffers from a terminal disease or remains in a 'persistent vegetative state' or PVS from which they cannot voice their wishes for continuation or termination of life, the question becomes whether or not the patient has the freedom to choose whether or not to prolong their life even though it may consist of pain and suffering. In answer to this question, proponents of physician-assisted suicide, most notably, Dr. Jack Kevorkian, are of the opinion that not only should patients be able to abstain from treatment, but if they have a terminal and/or extremely painful condition, they should be able to seek out the assistance of a doctor in order to expedite their death with as little pain as possible.Contained herein are the arguments for and against the legalization of doctor-assisted suicide, as well as where the state courts stand in respect to this most delicate of issues.In the hopes of clarification, we must first distinguish between active and passive euthanasia. Passive euthanasia involves the patient's refusal of medical assistance. It involves the right to die which is protected by the United States Constitution clauses of due process liberty and the right to privacy (Fourteenth Amendment). The right to doctor-assisted suicide, or active euthanasia, consists of, '...a patient's right to authorize a physician to perform an act that intentionally results in the patient's death, without the physician's being held civilly or criminally liable for having caused the death' .The 'passive' form of euthanasia was first deemed legal by the New Jersey State Supreme Court in 1976 In re Quinlan . In the Quinlan case, the court allowed a competent patient to terminate the use of life-sustaining medical machines to prolong life. Since New Jersey's decision, all fifty states have enacted similar statutes which contain living will provisions. However, although the United States Supreme Court upheld the Quinlan decision in re Cruzan , it changed the parameters of passive euthanasia . With the Cruzan decision, the Supreme Court held that passive euthanasia was legal but only for competent adults or those who are incompetent but have previously procured a living will. However, if the patient is without a living will and incompetent, it becomes the burden of the family to prove that there is 'clear and convincing evidence' to the affect that the patient does not want to continue living in a vegetative state.As to active euthanasia, there has been no Supreme Court ruling determining whether the right to die, as understood in passive euthanasia cases, can be bound over to active euthanasia. The decision is thus left to the individual states. Currently, thirty-one states have criminalized explicitly the act of assisted...

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