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Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS)

Activity in states other than
California, Oregon & Washington

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Activity in the states of California, Oregon and Washington is described elsewhere

Topics covered in this essay:

bulletCalifornia 2007
bulletColorado 2000
bulletFlorida 1997
bulletHawaii 2002
bulletMaine 2000
bulletMichigan 1998
bulletNew York state 1996

Colorado - 2000:

According to EWTN for 2000-JUL-11, former judge Robert Sanderson, 81, applied to a county court to allow him to establish a power of attorney for his wife. It would authorize his death in the event that two doctors agreed that his medical condition was hopeless. He claimed that a state law which criminalized assisted suicide violated the 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th 9th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. In 1998, the court agreed that the law was unconstitutional because it conflicted the 1st Amendment. The case was appealed to the Colorado Court of Appeals. In his submission, Sanderson maintained that free will granted by God or nature allowed him to choose to kill himself with the help of another person. The court rejected the case, saying that "an individual's religious beliefs do not excuse the individual from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct the State is free to regulate."

Florida - 1997:

Section 782.08 of the Florida Statutes prohibits assisted suicide. Charles E. Hall had acquired HIV from a blood transfusion, and wanted to ask his doctor, Cecil McIver, M.D., to assist in his suicide at some date in the future when the infection developed into AIDS and his medical condition degraded to the point where he no longer wanted to live. He asked the Florida court to place an injunction against the State Attorney from prosecuting Dr. McIver in the event that he helped Mr. Hall commit suicide. The court found that Mr. Hall was mentally competent, suffering from deteriorating health and was terminally ill. The court granted the injunction; it based its decision on Florida's privacy provision and the federal Equal Protection Clause. The privacy law states in part: "[e]very natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into his private life." The court required that "the lethal medication must be self administered only after consultation and determination by both physician and patient that Mr. Hall is (1) competent, (2) imminently dying, and (3) prepared to die."

The State Attorney appealed the ruling of the Trial Court. On 1997-JUL-17, the Supreme Court overturned the earlier decision . Their reasoning was that Florida's privacy provision did not extend to this case, that the state has an interest in preventing suicide, that the integrity of the medical profession must be preserved. They stated that:

"We do not hold that a carefully crafted statute authorizing assisted suicide would be unconstitutional. Nor do we discount the sincerity and strength of the respondents' convictions. However, we have concluded that this case should not be decided on the basis of this Court's own assessment of the weight of the competing moral arguments. By broadly construing the privacy amendment to include the right to assisted suicide, we would run the risk of arrogating to ourselves those powers to make social policy that as a constitutional matter belong only to the legislature. 1

Hawaii - 2002:

The "Death with Dignity Act," HB 2487, was passed by a House committee in late 2002-FEB. It would allow "a terminally ill, competent adult to obtain a prescription for medication to end his or her life in a humane and dignified manner through a self-administered oral lethal dose. [The bill] Prohibits mercy killings, lethal injections, and active euthanasia."

There were two similar Senate bills: 

bulletSB 709 has yet to pass out of  the Judiciary and Health and Human Services committees.
bulletSB 2745 was introduced and passed its first reading in 2002-JAN.

The "Death with Dignity Act," HB 2487, passed the Hawaii House of Representatives on  2002-MAR-7 by a vote of 30 to 20. The bill then went to the Senate. Senator David Matsuura the chairperson of the Senate Health Committee, personally disagreed with the bill, and refused to allow it to be voted upon by his committee. 4,5 In a surprise move, the Senate overruled Matsuura by voting to pull the bill out of the Health Committee. HB 2487 was debated on 2002-MAY-2:

bulletSenator Avery Chumbley (D - Maui) pushed the bill to the floor of the Senate for debate. He described how his father died a painful death from cancer. "He was in tremendous agony, but he died in home, in my arms." He commented: "I think there is going to be tremendous pressure on people; there may be some people who reverse their position, but it is about allowing people, individuals to make this choice. It is not about murdering someone"
bulletSenator Norman Sakamoto (D - Salt Lake) contradicted Senator Chumbley. He said the bill would "equip everyone in this state with the trigger. When you see loved ones suffer, do you say 'Pull the trigger'?"  He seems to have overlooked the obvious fact that a patient must approach their physician and ask for the fatal medication; relatives are not involved in the decision.

On MAY-2, the Senators voted 13 to 12 to hold a final vote on the bill on MAY-3. If it had passed, then the bill will go to Governor Ben Cayetano, who had already stated that he supports such a bill and would be expected to sign it. Focus on the Family posted a list of Senators who were considered "swing votes."

Kelly Rosati, executive director of the Hawaii Family Forum in Honolulu, HI complained that "Many of the senators did not even know that this was planned." 6

"Pro-life groups and other assisted suicide opponents ? including the Honolulu-based Hawaii Family Forum, Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council ? activated their grassroots networks on Wednesday, [MAY-1] asking constituents to pray for the bill's defeat and to call, fax and e-mail the senators." 7 As a result, Senate offices were flooded with calls and faxes from individuals who were opposed to allowing people access to physician assisted suicide. There was no similar level of calls from those who favored access. Three senators changed their vote, and the measure was defeated 14 to 11. Rod Tam (D) was one of the three. He is quoted as saying: "Upon reviewing the bill, the e-mails, faxes and phone calls, it is my decision that such an important and emotional issue involving life-and-death decisions should not be decided in the short time span we have left in this session." Kelly Rosati, executive director of the Hawaii Family Forum, attributed the defeat of the bill mainly to prayer. Since the legislative session ended the next day, the bill is dead.

Focus on the Family wrote: "Everyone agrees the assisted suicide issue will be back next year. In fact, some of those who voted against the bill did so only because they saw technical problems in the legislation that couldn't be resolved before the session ended." 7 Rosati noted: "The irony of all of this is that if you look at all of the senators on the floor yesterday, a majority of them do support physician-assisted suicide. Even with that, we were able to prevail."

There is strong organized opposition to the bill from conservative Christians. Kelly Rosati, has said in the past: "There will not only be a subtle, or not-so-subtle, duty upon elderly patients to feel that they need to check out early, but we will also move quickly into the situation where we don't just have physician-assisted suicide, we actually will have physician-assisted death. The lives of the vulnerable are at risk with the passage of this proposal." The bill, of course, only authorizes physician assisted suicide after a terminally ill person requests it. Physician assisted death would remain murder.

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Maine - 2000:

Starting in 1991, a physician assisted suicide bill has been repeatedly considered and rejected by the Maine legislature. These failures motivated Mainer's for Death With Dignity to bypass the legislature and attempt to obtain a law via a public referendum. They obtained in excess of 40,000 signatures in support of a ballot initiative. It received top billing on the Main November election ballot. It will ask: "Should a terminally ill adult, who is of sound mind, be allowed to ask for and receive a doctor's help to die." 

Opposed to assisted suicide are the "Roman Catholic Diocese of Maine, the Maine Medical Association, the Maine Hospice Council, medical educators, as well as others with a pro-life orientation." Opponents have organized three PACs.

Edith Smith, of the Maine Citizens Against the Dangers of Physician-Assisted Suicide said "We're the underdogs in this. The State of Maine should not ever have physician assisted suicide. It's not necessary and it's definitely dangerous." She feels that the brief published in support of the measure is "fatally flawed. Among other things, it does not encourage family involvement. The definition of who is a next of kin does not require that person to be a blood relative." She estimates that the "anti" side will have to raise between $500,000 and 1 million dollars to defeat the measure. 2

The International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force listed a number of concerns about the proposed "Death with Dignity" act:

bulletThe decision to assist a person to die could be made between an individual and their physician. The Task Force would prefer that at least the family was notified in advance.
bulletThe individual might obtain the drugs and store them unsafely for future use.
bulletThe individual could obtain the drugs, decide to not commit suicide. Later, a family member could use the drugs to murder the person.
bulletThey fear that a HMO or insurance company will be motivated by a desire for profits and will suggest that a patient commit suicide.
bulletPatients who are mentally ill or who suffer from depression could obtain assistance in dying if a counselor determined that the patient's judgment was not impaired.
bulletStatistics on physician assisted suicide may be inaccurate.
bulletMany individuals who are members of "minorities, women, the elderly, the disabled and the underinsured" traditionally do not receive adequate health care. For them, suicide would be a more attractive alternative. 3

Voters narrowly defeated the measure on 2000-NOV-7 by a margin of 51 to 49%. 

Michigan - 1998:

Merian's Friends is a group which promotes physician-assisted suicide. It is named after Merian Fredericks, who committed suicide with the help of Dr. Jack Kevorkian. They were able to accumulate 379,000 signatures on a petition to legalize assisted suicide. Almost 250,000 were needed to place a proposed bill on the 1998-NOV-3 ballot. Michigan voters turned down the proposition by a vote of about 71 to 29%. Some opponents said that the voters rejected the proposed law, not the concept of assisted suicide. Dr. Jack Kevorkian was opposed to the law; he saw it as excessively restrictive. Dr. John Finn, executive director of Hospice of Michigan, commented: "It may have been a different outcome if they had a very open-ended piece of legislation that would be accessible to all suffering patients, not just the terminally ill." There was strong initial support for the bill. This faded when opponents stressed that the proposal was excessively complicated and improperly shielded from government oversight. Citizens for Compassionate Care wound up spending close to $6 million to defeat the proposition. Merian's Friends only had $1 million to spend, and it cost $900,000 to place the initiative on the ballot.

New York State - 1996:

On 1996-APR-3, the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals declared unconstitutional a State of New York law that criminalized physician assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. A panel of 3 judges found that the law violates the equal protection guaranteed by the 14 Amendment to the US constitution. This ruling only affected 3 states: Connecticut, New York and Vermont. On 1996-APR-18, the Attorney General of the state of New York asked that the ruling be suspended for a short time, while the State appealed the decision to the US Supreme Court. The decision of the court was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

References:

  1. The text of the Florida Supreme court ruling is at:
    http://www.herald.com/docs/ruling.htm (may be a dead link)
  2. "Assisted suicide to top Maine November ballot," CNSNews. Available at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/00/20000530c.htm
  3. "Analysis of Maine assisted suicide proposal," at:  http://www.iaetf.org/mainean.htm 
  4. Pete Winn and Kristie Rutherford, "Suicide Bill Passes, But Fight Continues: Opponents of assisted suicide have shifted their fight to the Hawaii Senate," Focus on the Family, at: http://www.family.org/cforum/
  5. The text of the Hawaii Death with Dignity Act (HB2487) is at: http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/
  6. Kristie Rutherford, "Sneak attack pushes Hawaii to brink of legalizing assisted suicide," Citizenlink News, Focus on the Family, 2002-MAY-1.  

Up to date information:

The Death with Dignity National Center tracks bill activity at the state, national and international level. See:  http://www.deathwithdignity.org/

Site navigation: Home page > "Hot" topics  > Assisted suicide > U.S. > here

or: Home page > "Hot" topics  > Suicide menu > Assisted suicide > U.S. > here

Copyright ? 1997 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Last updated 2007-JUN-02

Author: Bruce A Robinson

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