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States’ Laws on Physician-Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia

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States’ Laws on Physician-Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia

Euthanasia has been considered illegal in most of the States in the United States. However, words like “euthanasia”, “mercy killing” and “physician assisted suicide” are used by the judges, physicians and attorneys commonly without a proper definition of the terms. In the very narrow sense “physician-assisted suicide” means that a physician provides a lethal dose of tablets with the knowledge that the patient will use them for committing suicide. On the other hand when the physician administers a lethal dose of drugs with the intent of putting an end to the patient’s suffering by making him/her die, such act is regarded as “mercy killing” or “active euthanasia” (Standler, 2005).

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The decision to end one’s life is purely a private decision by an adult who is mentally competent to take such a decision. Therefore such decision need not get the approval of other people. Modern medical technologies and medicines make the life of people a prolonged one and thus making the terminally ill patients suffer meaninglessly, where such suffering is needless also. This is the basis on which States tried to pass legislative measures for legalizing Physician-assisted Suicide or Euthanasia. Nevertheless, several attempts by different states to pass legislation to legalize euthanasia have failed (Raven, 2008)

Oregon is the first State in the United States and the first jurisdiction in the world to have legalized euthanasia. The State passed the “Oregon Death with Dignity Act” in the year 1994. The law allows physician-assisted dyeing with certain restrictions. The law survived repeal attempts in the year 1997 and 2005. The law of the State was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2005 in the case of Gonzales v. Oregon.

State of Texas passed the “Texas Futile Care Law” in the year 1999. The law provides for the withdrawal of the life support measures like mechanical respiration from the patients who are terminally ill. To resort to this measure it is necessary to prove that such treatment is considered futile and inappropriate with respect to the patient.

In November 2008, Washington voters approved the initiative 1000 making it an official law drafted on the same lines as that of Oregon Death with Dignity Act. This Act provides terminally ill people the option to resort to medically assisted suicide. Under the Act a physician can prescribe lethal medication to terminally ill patients which could be self-administered. The law is clear in that it does not allow the physicians to inject or administer the lethal dose of medicines into patients who are incapable of injecting the medication on their own.

“The measure also requires a patient to orally request the injection twice at least 15 days apart, and submit a written request witnessed by two people, at least one of whom cannot be affiliated with the patient” (Standler, 2005). It is also necessary that two doctors must certify that the patient is terminally ill and would live for a period of less than six months.

The advocates of Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) claim that PAS and euthanasia help reduce the physical and psychological suffering to the patients and at the same time it also helps to reduce the healthcare costs and make available the resources of doctors and nurses to other needy patients. However, there are contradicting opinions that PAS when made legal may be abused by the physicians as well as the patients (Woodward, 2008).

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