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...