12/3/2018Whose Right to Die? - The Atlantic1/14POLITICSWhose Right to Die?The debate over physician-assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia will soonreach its most important stage in this country. Last spring the Second and NinthCircuit Courts of Appeals handed down momentous decisions striking down statelaws in New York and Washington that forbid physician-assisted suicide. Althoughthe Second and Ninth Circuit Court cases focus on physician-assisted suicide, andalthough there are important differences between physician-assisted suicide andvoluntary euthanasia, the legal reasoning that would justify physician-assistedsuicide would almost certainly extend to voluntary euthanasia. The intensity of thedebate on both issues will grow during the wait for rulings this year by the SupremeCourt, which has accepted the two circuit-court cases for review.In physician-assisted suicide a doctor supplies a death-causing means, such asbarbiturates, but the patient performs the act that brings about death. In voluntaryeuthanasia the physician performs the death-causing act after determining that thepatient indeed wishes to end his or her life. Neither term applies to a patient'srefusal of life-support technology, such as a respirator or artificial nutrition, or apatient's request that it be withdrawn; these have had ethical and constitutionalsanction nationwide for years. And neither term applies to what is sometimescalled indirect euthanasia, when the administration of drugs primarily for painrelief may have the secondary effect of causing death, as the physician is wellaware. This practice, too, is ethically and legally sanctioned.America should think again before pressing ahead with the legalization ofphysician-assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasiaEZEKIEL J. EMANUELMARCH 1997 ISSUE
12/3/2018Whose Right to Die? - The Atlantic2/14In formulating their decisions the circuit-court judges made a number ofassumptions about the actual or likely circumstances surrounding cases of death byactive intervention. Their judgments are based on misreadings of history,misinterpretations of survey data, mistaken reasoning, and simple misinformation.Myth No. 1: It is primarily advances in biomedical technology—especially life-sustaining technology—that have created unprecedented public interest inphysician-assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia. "The emergent right toreceive medical assistance in hastening one's death [is an] inevitable consequenceof changes in the causes of death, advances in medical science, and thedevelopment of new technologies. Both the need and the capability to assistindividuals [to] end their lives in peace and dignity have increased exponentially"(Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals).
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- attending physician, Ninth Circuit Court, Voluntary Euthanasia Society