PHYSICIAN-ASSISTED SUICIDE: SUPREME COURT HEARS ARGUMENTS
The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today on twoThis is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.
controversial cases testing the constitutionality of physician-
assisted suicide. The Court will arguments on cases from
Washington and New York states "in which federal appeals courts
ruled that state laws banning physician assisted suicide were
unconstitutional," WASHINGTON POST reports (Okie, 1/8). The
federal appeals courts ruled last year that laws banning
physician-assisted suicide are unconstitutional because they
violate "either a person's right to 'liberty' or 'equal
protection,' because people have a recognized right to refuse
medical treatment, which could kill them" (Monmaney, LOS ANGELES
TIMES, 1/8). A ruling is expected by July (REUTERS/DETROIT NEWS,
EFFECTS: POST reports that if the high court rules in favor
of the lower court decisions, "doctors would be legally allowed
to prescribe lethal drugs to a terminally ill, mentally competent
patient who requested them." But no doctor would be required to
help a patient in committing suicide (1/8). TIMES reports that
if the court upholds either case, "it would strike down laws in
California and other states against physician-assisted suicide"
(1/8). POST notes that Oregon is the only state to have passed a
law legalizing physician-assisted suicide, but so far, court
decisions have prevented the measure from going into effect.
RIGHT TO DIE: POST reports that "America's doctors remain
deeply divided on the issue" of legalizing physician-assisted
suicide. Dr. Timothy Quill, a professor of medicine and
psychiatry at the University of Rochester and a plaintiff in one
of the cases, said, "I think there's very diverse opinion within
the profession, just like there is within the society at large.
I do think most physicians are welcoming the conversation about
these issues, because at least those who work with seriously ill
patients are facing them on a regular basis" (1/8). Appearing on
CBS' "This Morning," Quill said, "When suffering gets extreme at
the end and patients want to have a way out, we need to be able
to have an open discussion about that, second opinions,
safeguards, so that this kind of decision can be made out in the
open and not in secret" (1/8).
OPPOSITION: American Medical Association Board Chair Dr.
Nancy Dickey said that in the Netherlands, "the only living
laboratory where this has been tried," there are "close to 1,000
who have been euthanized ... without consent and without their
request." She added, "There is an extraordinarily big difference
between a patient whose illness is about to take their life in
which we've put an artificial barrier [and] we remove that
barrier ... versus the individual who says 'I've got a disease
that sometime in the future is going to kill me and I'm going to
prematurely select the day that I die" ("Today," NBC, 1/8).
Washington Attorney General Christine Gregoire (D) said, "We need
to make sure that we don't rush to assisted suicide when in fact
there are other things that could be done to help us get through
those last days" ("This Morning," CBS, 1/8).
THE DOCS: According to William Knaus, chair of the
Department of Health Evaluation Sciences at the University of
Virginia School of Medicine, "many physicians are 'astounded'
that the Supreme Court may soon conclude" that a patient has a
constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide. He said,
"That the Supreme Court is even considering it is breathtaking to
many of us." He added that if the lower court decisions are
upheld, "the next day every person in this country could walk
into a doctor's office or health care facility and demand
suicide" (POST, 1/8).