The continuous debate on Physician-Assisted Suicide (PAS) and Euthanasia is, in essence, a clash between two philosophies: the intrinsic value of human life versus the idea of absolute autonomy. On one side the opponents of PAS and euthanasia see life as a something that is sacred and has the value that no man can ever decide what is best for his life or another person’s life. One the other side the advocates of euthanasia see death as a personal matter which should be left to the individual. They likewise consider human life as sacred but they justify a man’s decision to choose and request death in cases of terminal illness.
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The resolution on this debate is until now unresolved. This can be gleaned from the different treatments given by the individual states on the issue of PAS. This essay aims to compare and contrast the state laws of Texas, Oregon and Florida on the issue of physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia.
Consider the case of Florida which has a state law prohibiting assisted suicide under its general homicide laws. (“Legal Status of Assisted Suicide/Euthanasia in the United States”) Under Section 782.08 of the said law, “Every person deliberately assisting another in the commission of murder shall be guilty of manslaughter, a felony of the second degree…” (Sec 782.08)
Case of Krischer v. McIver (697 So.2d97)
This prohibition against physician-assisted suicide is affirmed in the case of Krischer v. McIver, (697 So.2d97) In this case, Charles Hall, a terminally ill man who had acquired HIV, wanted to ask his doctor, Mclver, to extend assistance in his suicide in case his HIV infection developed into AIDS and his medical condition worsened. He then asked the Florida courts not to file suit against his doctor in case he gives assistance to Hall in committing suicide.
The trial court on the basis of Florida’s privacy law which stated that every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from government intrusion into his private life granted the request of Hall
On appeal, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s decision. It ruled that the more compelling public interest in preventing suicide and preserving the integrity of the medical profession cannot give way to the privacy right of the patient to choose the time and manner of his death.
The State of Texas
In Texas, Section 22.08 of the Texas Penal Code prohibits any person from assisting another to commit suicide. The same is considered as a homicide under their statute. Among the states that criminalize assisted suicide are Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, and Georgia. (Penny Krug).
The State of Oregon
In contrast to the State of Florida and Texas, the State of Oregon has a more liberal view on the issue of Physician Assisted Suicide. Research shows that under the current law, Oregon was the first state to allow Physician Assisted Suicide.
It must be stressed however that under its general law, Rev. Stat. 163.125, Oregon law considers the act of aiding another person in committing suicide as second-degree manslaughter. However, in 1994, the citizens of Oregon was able to submit for ballot what will later be known as the Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act of Ballot Measure 16 which provided for an exception to this general law.
Ballot Measure 16 was submitted for approval by the people. It was approved by a small plurality of the voters at that time in a general election in which 51.3% of the people voted for its approval while only 48.7% did not. (“Oregon Death With Dignity Act”)
Under the said law, an adult resident of Oregon who is terminally ill may now request in wiring from his doctors a prescription for a lethal dose of medication for the sole purpose of putting an end to his life. This law will not place any liability, penal or civil, upon the physician who assisted the patient to commit suicide and to the patient’s relatives.
The case of Lee v. Oregon (107 F. 3d 1872)
The validity of the Oregon Death with Dignity Act was challenged in the case of Lee v. Oregon 107 F. 3d 1382. In this case, plaintiffs who were doctors, patients, and residential care facilities questioned and validity of the Oregon Death with Dignity Act for violating the First and Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The trial court found that the said statute violated the Equal Protection Clause and ordered the act to be permanently enjoined.
In justifying the enjoinment of the statute, the trial court stated that distinction must be made between an adult who is terminally ill but in full possession of his reasoning faculties and an adult who because of the nature of his sickness is no longer in full possession of his mental faculties. The subject statute violated the Equal Protection Clause between them because the said law did not provide for sufficient protection that will prevent an incompetent and terminally adult from committing suicide.
On appeal, the court said that none of those who filed this suit has sufficient standing to bring this suit. The plaintiffs, in this case, were doctors, patients, and residential care facilities which do did not suffer an injury by reason of this act. The terminally ill patients have no standing to bring this suit because they were not terminally ill or in imminent danger of death. The doctors and physicians likewise had no standing to file this suit because they likewise are not terminally ill. Neither could the doctors assert that they could bring this suit on behalf of their terminally ill patients because the act has no criminal or civil penalty for its violation. This only means that they would not be punished in case they choose not to cooperate with the patient’s request for assistance in committing suicide.
Case of Gonzales v Oregon (546 US 243)
The same thing happened in the case of Gonzales v. Oregon (546 US 243). In this case, the United States Supreme Court in affirming the Oregon Death with Dignity Act ruled that the United States Attorney General may not enforce the Controlled Substance Act against the doctors and physicians for prescribing drugs to their terminally ill patients.
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