Gonzales v. Oregon and Physician-Assisted Suicide: Ethical and Policy Issues
31 Pages Posted: 27 Aug 2009 Last revised: 9 Jan 2015
Date Written: Spring 2007
The euthanasia literature typically discusses the difference between “active” and “passive” means of ending a patient’s life. Physician-assisted suicide differs from both active and passive forms of euthanasia insofar as the physician does not administer the means of suicide to the patient. Instead, she merely prescribes and dispenses them to the patient and lets the patient “do the rest” – if and when the patient chooses. One supposed advantage of this process is that it maximizes the patient’s autonomy with respect to both her decision to die and the dying process itself. Still, despite this supposed advantage, Oregon is the only state to have legalized physician-assisted suicide. After summarizing the most important Supreme Court opinions on euthanasia (namely, Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Dep’t of Health; Vacco v. Quill; Washington v. Glucksberg; and Gonzales v. Oregon), this paper argues that while there are no strong ethical reasons against legalizing physician-assisted suicide, there are some very strong policy reasons for keeping it criminal in the other forty-nine states.
Keywords: euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, legitimate medical purpose act/omissions distinction, killing/letting die distinction, due process, withdrawal of life support, Hippocratic Oath, alleviate suffering, Cruzan, Washington v. Glucksberg, Vacco v. Quill
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