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Example research essay topic: Physician Assisted Suicide Doctor Assisted Suicide - 1,429 words

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Throughout the twentieth century, major scientific and medical advances have greatly enhanced the life expectancy of the average person. However, there are many cases where doctors can preserve life artificially. In these cases where the patient suffers from a terminal disease or remains in a persistent vegetative state or PVS from which they cannot voice their wishes for continuation or termination of life, the question becomes whether or not the patient has freedom to choose whether or not to prolong their life even though it may consist of pain and suffering. In answer to this question, supporters of physician-assisted suicide, including, Dr. Jack Kevorkian, believe that not only should patients be able to abstain from treatment, but if they have a terminal or extremely painful condition, they should be able to use the assistance of a doctor in order die with as little pain as possible. Most people who support euthanasia believe they must find a way to legalize it in the United States, because people with incurable diseases who are in great pain deserve to die a painless death.

To understand euthanasia, it is best to 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 Fourteenth Amendment. The right to doctor assisted suicide, or active euthanasia, consists of a patient s right to authorize a physician to perform an act that intentionally results in the patient s death, without the physician s being held civilly or criminally liable for having caused the death.

The passive form of euthanasia was first considered legal by the New Jersey State Supreme Court in 1976 In the Karen Quinlan case. In the Quinlan case, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the parents of Karen Ann Quinlan, who had been in a tranquilized and alcohol induced coma for a year, could remove her respirator. She died nine years later. Since New Jersey s decision, all fifty states have made similar statutes which contain living will provisions. However, although the United States Supreme Court upheld the Quinlan decision, the 1990 case of Nancy Cruzan changed the ruling on passive euthanasia. With the Cruzan decision, the Supreme Court stated that passive euthanasia was legal but only for competent adults or those who are incompetent but have previously made a living will.

However, if the patient is without a living will and incompetent, it becomes the burden of the family to prove that there is a clear and convincing evidence to the affect that the patient does not want to continue living in a vegetative state. In the case of active euthanasia, there has been no Supreme Court ruling determining whether the right to die, as used in passive euthanasia cases, can be applied in active euthanasia cases. The decision is left to the individual states. In 1994, voters in Oregon passed a referendum making it the only state in the country that allows doctors to prescribe life ending drugs for terminally ill patients. The law was not put into effect until last year. In 1998, Michigan voters defeated a measure that would have made physician assisted suicide legal.

Currently, thirty-one states have made assisted suicide a criminal act. Physician assisted suicide is generally recognized as illegal in association with the definition of homicide, however it is very difficult to meet all of the elements of homicide and conviction therefore becomes nearly impossible. The fact that the U. S. Supreme Court has not reviewed a physician assisted suicide case, creates a problem for the state courts in that there is no definitive answer or ruling by which to decide. Most states have developed their own laws to make doctor assisted suicide illegal.

However, when a case comes to trial it is usually dismissed either by the judge or by the jury. For example in at least five of the assisted suicides which Dr. Jack Kevorkian was involved in, all criminal charges were dismissed. So, the laws have been created, but when it comes to convicting a doctor and sending him to prison, the law often breaks down and the charges are dismissed or the doctor is acquitted. In the case of the nineteen states which have not made decisions concerning physician assisted suicide, the issue becomes less clear. Many of these states have a hard time grouping physician assisted suicide with homicide.

The case in Michigan which excludes assisted suicide from homicide is Michigan vs. Campbell. In the Campbell case, the court found that the term suicide excludes by definition a homicide. Since, suicide is not a homicide, then assisted suicide can not be labeled as a homicide.

At the time of the appellate courts hearing of the Campbell appeal, there was no other law stating what crime an assisted suicide would fall under and the homicide charges were dismissed. Supporters against active suicide feel that it is the duty of physicians to help and heal patients as opposed to aiding their exit from this world. They also fear that the legalization of doctor assisted suicide may be abused by doctors who do not feel that there is any hope for the patient and convince them to terminate their life. The state also has an interest in the life of the individual. The individual state was originally set up to protect the rights of individuals and to see that the value of an individual s life and the value of life to society as a whole is protected. The value of an individual s life includes their personal well being and safety from harm, even if self inflicted.

So, it has now become the duty of the individual states to balance the interests of the state against the interests of the individual patient in order to come up with a law which is accommodating to both. Supporters for active euthanasia believe that legislation against it is violative of the fundamental concepts of liberty, freedom of choice, and self determination. They base these beliefs on the content of the fourteenth amendment to the United States Constitution. The voluntary choice between life and death is to them, a basic human right which government has no right to decide. The trend in the law seems to be obviously against the legalization of physician assisted suicide.

This is clear due to the thirty one states which have already incorporated the act into their laws as being illegal. In the other states, there is much controversy about it s legalization. The courts seem to protect doctors from law suits, and patients from doctor s abuse. In the courts view, passive and active euthanasia are two entirely different things. One involves withholding of care which may or may not end up in death and the other involves a doctor s administration of a lethal substance with the specific intent of creating the death of the patient.

In other words, one allows death to occur without doctor intervention and the other is mercy killing. Based on research, it seems clear that the effort to legalize active euthanasia is one that is not going to go away in the near future. This is especially due to the spread of the AIDS virus and other incurable diseases. As of today, it seems the U. S. Supreme Court is not ready to make a ruling on euthanasia.

Currently, there are twenty one states which allow citizen legislation through the use of the general election ballot. In these states, special interest groups which support euthanasia have placed initiatives on the ballot. An example of one of these groups is the California based Americans for Death with Dignity or ADD. The ADD designed a statue, proposition 161, that would legalize doctor assisted suicide. The statue was also created with extraordinary care to provide all reasonable precaution to protect against the risks of legalizing the practice of active euthanasia. One of the parts of the statue which works toward the prevention of abuse is that the statue would only allow licensed physicians to assist in ending someone s life.

Although proposition 161 was not passed, the ADD believes it is proof that the general population does believe in legalizing physician assisted suicide. The act of taking a life is a serious one. The American population seems to be split on the issue, as can be seen in the case of capital punishment. Although, active suicide involves consent, the term physician assisted suicide is difficult for lawmakers and the public to consent to because of the term itself.


Free research essays on topics related to: physician assisted suicide, doctor assisted suicide, united states constitution, passive euthanasia, u s supreme court

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