Constitutional Aspects of Physician-Assisted Suicide after Lee V. Oregon
29 Pages Posted: 10 Oct 2010 Last revised: 22 Dec 2010
Date Written: 1997
On November 8, 1994, Oregon voters narrowly passed the highly controversial Death with Dignity Act (Measure 16), which marked the first time that physician-assisted suicide was explicitly legalized anywhere in the world. In Lee v. Oregon, a group of physicians, several terminally ill persons, a residential care facility, and individual operators of residential care facilities sought to enjoin enforcement of the new law, claiming various constitutional infirmities. The U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon enjoined enforcement of the law, acknowledging that it raised important constitutional issues including possible violations of the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. This note analyzes the impact of the Lee and the debate surrounding physician assisted suicide. Part II of this Note outlines several important ethical and legal arguments both in favor of, and opposed to, legalized assisted suicide. Part III discusses the cases that have reviewed laws prohibiting physician-assisted suicide. Part IV examines Measure 16 in detail, including a review of the safeguards drafted into the act. This Note continues with a discussion of the constitutional questions presented in Lee v. Oregon as traditionally analyzed and as treated by the court. This Note concludes that one may not properly infer a fundamental right to assisted suicide. In addition, the Equal Protection Clause does not prevent states from recognizing a patient's right to remove life-sustaining treatment and hydration, while prohibiting doctors from prescribing lethal medication to the terminally ill on request.
Keywords: Assisted suicide, constitutional law, Compassion in Dying, equal protection clause, liberty, terminal illness
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