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Assisted Suicide

Overview

Assisted Suicide is the ending of one's own life by taking a medication knowingly provided by a physician for that purpose. http://www.worldrtd.net/term/assisted-suicide.

A physician knowingly supplies the means, which usually involves a prescription for a lethal dose of barbiturates (sleeping pills). Some physicians provide other, less-effective, medications, because they feel hesitant to be linked to any prescription that is rigorously controlled in most jurisdictions around the world. http://www.worldrtd.net/term/assisted-suicide.

Agency Guidance

The American Medical Association (AMA) does not support assisted suicide. According to the AMA’s Code of Medical Ethics, “allowing physicians to participate in assisted suicide would cause more harm than good. Physician-assisted suicide is fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer, would be difficult or impossible to control, and would pose serious societal risks.” http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/physician-resources/medical-ethics/code-medical-ethics/opinion2211.page.

According to AMA, instead of participating in assisted suicide, physicians should aggressively respond to the needs of patients at the end of life. http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/physician-resources/medical-ethics/code-medical-ethics/opinion2211.page.

Future Direction

Many states have laws that prohibit physicians and others from assisting an individual in the taking of their life. http://www.patientsrightscouncil.org/site/assisted-suicide-state-laws/.

In a pair of decisions issued June 26, 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court found such laws passed constitutional muster. In Vacco v. Quill, No. 95-1858 (1997), the Court found New York's prohibition on assisting suicide does not violate the Equal Protection Clause. In Washington v. Glucksberg, No. 96-110 (1997), the Court found Washington’s assisted suicide ban does not violate the Due Process Clause.