Assisted Suicide

“[T]he core of the argument for it [assisted suicide] is maximizing individual autonomy and minimizing human suffering.”

― Miriam Toews

Physician-assisted suicide in the United States is now legal in California. 

Since 1992, there have been 5 ballot propositions where the majority of voters voted it down. In 2015 the state legislature passed a bill at allow it, and the governor signed it into law to take effect this past June 9th.

It is already legal in Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. In New Mexico, a court has ruled that physicians can  not be prosecuted under the state’s Assisted Suicide Statute, which is defined as the act of “deliberately aiding another in the taking of his own life”, and makes such assistance punishable. At least five other states are considering allowing it.  At least 5 other nations permit it.

Assisted suicide is suicide committed with the aid of a physician who knowingly and intentionally provides a terminally ill person with the knowledge to commit suicide, including counselling about lethal doses of drugs, and prescribing such lethal doses or supplying the drugs. There are safeguards also in place, varying by state law, to insure the terminal diagnosis is accurate, that the person/patient is of sound mind, their request is witnessed by at least one disinterested person, and the individual has the right to change their mind at any point.

It is a thorny issue, rife with emotion on both sides for and against, not to mention ethical, legal and religious issues:

Contrary to popular belief, most medical schools do not require doctors to hold to the original Hippocratic Oath of 400 B.C.E., stating “I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel.” 

In two cases from 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that physician-assisted suicide is not a protected liberty interest under the Constitution. However, the court left the door open for states to permit physician-assisted suicide.

Most all religious belief systems are against it, holding that God is the sole giver and taker of life, that life is a precious gift.

At some point, we will all face death and, if it isn’t sudden or accidental, we will have some time to think about how it will be when we know the end is near.

When that time comes for me, how will I think? Will I consider assisted suicide to escape an excruciatingly painful death (if the case) that will end my life anyway in 6 months or less?

I don’t know.

Do you?

–  Bill



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