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- Physician-Assisted Suicide under the U.S. Constitutional Law -

  • Public Land Law Review
  • Abbr : KPLLR
  • 2010, 49(), pp.531-558
  • Publisher : Korean Public Land Law Association
  • Research Area : Social Science > Law

Soon Chul Huh 1

1경남대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

There was a constitutional question whether a terminally ill patient has a right to physician assisted suicide to end his or her life with dignity before the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington v. Glucksberg. In Vacco v. Quill, the Court had already decided that the distinction between assisting suicide and withdrawing life-sustaining treatment is reasonable with regard to the fundamental legal principles of intent and causation. The Court decided that when a patient refuses life-sustaining medical treatment, he dies from an underlying fatal disease or pathology; but if a patient ingests lethal medication prescribed by a physician, he is killed by that medication. Furthermore, a physician who withdraws, or honors a patient's refusal to begin, life-sustaining medical treatment purposefully intends, or may so intend, only to respect his patient's wishes. However, a doctor who assists a suicide must, necessarily and indubitably, intend primarily that the patient be made dead. But the decision has been criticized because in case of withdrawing life-sustaining treatment the withdrawing act would be the main cause of death, and it seems difficult to say that the doctor had not intended to produce death. It is also contended since ending treatment and administering substances to end life are both acts of commission with the same purpose and effect. In Washington v. Glucksberg, the Court decided that in almost every State it is a crime to assist a suicide, and the Washington statute prohibits physician assisted suicide. The Court also said that there is a distinction between withdrawing treatment and administering drugs to end a person's life which is not protected by law. The State has an unqualified interest in the preservation of human life and in protecting the vulnerable persons and groups and the integrity and ethics of the medical profession. The concern about the abuse of physician assisted suicide is further supported by evidence about the practice of euthanasia in the Netherlands. The fact that a patient may live for a long time after ending the treatment logically reinforces the distinction between withdrawing treatment and administering drugs to end a patient's life. We should be careful that physician assisted suicide does not mean to permit all people to suicide and terminally ill patient has the right to self determination and human dignity in deciding matters affecting life or death.

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