Title

Physician Assisted Suicide and the Supreme Court: Putting the Constitutional Claim to Rest

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

12-1997

ISSN

1541-0048

Publisher

American Public Health Association

Language

en-US

Abstract

Like the debate about many controversial questions of ethics and medical care in America, public debate about physician assisted suicide became focused on questions of constitutional law. On June 26, 1997, the United States Supreme Court unanimously rejected any constitutional right of terminally ill patients to physician assisted suicide. An analysis of the Court's reasoning reveals that its decisions resolved only a narrow constitutional question that affects relatively few people--mentally competent, terminally ill patients who wish to hasten their imminent deaths by having a physician prescribe medication that they intend to use to commit suicide. Although suicide is not a crime, states remain free to prohibit assisted suicide. One consequence of the Court's decisions may be renewed debate on state laws. A more productive result would be to address the broader public health concerns that gave rise to support for physician assisted suicide--inadequate care for the terminally ill and prevention of suicide.

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