The Right to Die
On April 13, 1999 retired pathologist Dr. Jack Kevorkian was sentenced in Michigan to two terms of imprisonment for helping Thomas Youk end his life. Kevorkian was charged and ultimately convicted of second-degree murder and received a sentence ranging from ten to twenty-five years. Some argue that assisting individuals in suicide constitutes cruelty while others believe that those in pain should have the right to choose to end their lives painlessly. Any person suffering from unbearable pain, whether physical or even emotional, should have the final say to end his life and die with some aspect of dignity.
The sentence, which Kevorkian received, was unjust. Why is the punishment which Kevorkian received wrong? To understand this, one must first analyze the law of criminal homicide in regards to what exactly murder in the second degree is. There are two elements that must be present when determining whether a crime has been committed.
These two elements are the actus reus and mens rea of the crime.
If the two above elements are not proven, then legally a crime has not been committed. The actus reus of homicide is the physical act itself. The physical act for second-degree murder is simply killing another person. In the case which Kevorkian was convicted, it is quite clear that the element of actus reus was indeed present. The physical act was the injection of the lethal dosage of drugs into the patient's arm.
The second element of this crime, however, is a different story. The mens rea of a crime is known as the mental element of the specified crime. In terms of second-degree murder, the mens rea is stated as intent, without premeditation, to kill another person. It is in this element which Kevorkian should not have been convicted. Indeed...