Euthanasia, The Legal Aspect.

Essay by kamakazeeUniversity, Master'sA+, April 2003

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Euthanasia: The Legal Aspect

Another important area to consider while discussing the topic of euthanasia, aside from ethics and the philosophical point of view, is the legal aspect. Does a person have a right to die? Should the law allow doctors to assist terminally ill patients in ending their lives? Is there a way to make one law pertaining to the topic of physician assisted suicide? To answer these questions, 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). Active euthanasia, or doctor - assisted suicide, is defined as a patient's right to authorize a physician to perform an act that intentionally results in the patient's death, without the physician being held civilly or criminally liable.

In the courts' view, passive and active euthanasia are two entirely different things. The passive form of euthanasia was first deemed legal by the New Jersey State Supreme Court in the 1976 Quinlan case. In the Quinlan case, the court ruled that a competent patient has the right to terminate the use of life-sustaining medical machines. Since New Jersey's decision, all fifty states have enacted similar statutes, which contain living will provisions. As of yet, there has been no Supreme Court ruling determining whether or not active euthanasia should be legalized. The decision is thus left to the individual states. Currently, 31 states have criminalized the act of physician assisted suicide. Physician assisted suicide is generally recognized as illegal under the parameters of homicide. However, because patients select to die, their deaths end their suffering, and there is no intention to cause harm, physician assisted euthanasia cannot be considered...