assisted suicide

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Assisted suicide, also referred to physician-assisted suicide (PAS) is a method by which a physician will provide medical supplies and prescription medications to a terminally ill individual as a means for that individual to end their life. This can be through sleeping pills or other drug prescriptions that would allow an individual to humanely terminate their own life. 

In Myers v Schneiderman, assisted suicide is described the act by which a physician intentionally prescribes a lethal dosage of a drug. Under NYS Penal Law S125.15(3), assisted suicide is prohibited even where the defendant is motivated by sympathetic concerns, such as the desire to relieve a terminally ill person from the agony of a painful disease. 

One of the most famous cases concerning assisted suicide in the United States is People v Kevorkian which took place in Michigan. In that case, Dr. Kevorkian, participated in assisting patients with ending their life. The first procedure being performed on an adult who was suffering from Alzheimer’s and involved the setting up of a machine that allowed her to press a button which delivered poison to her veins. Subsequently, Doctor Kevorkian helped dozens of individuals with terminal illnesses in ending their lives. However, these actions were highly controversial and criticised by the public. At that time, there were no laws in Michigan banning assisted suicide. The final ruling of the courts in People v Kevorkian effectively banned assisted suicide and held that it was not a constitutional right. This case rendered assisted suicide a crime

Other landmark cases include the Supreme Court decision in Washington v Gluckberg which held that assisted suicide was not a fundamental right and was not protected under the due process clause. 

However, some states have recognized the right to physician-assisted suicide through death with dignity statutes. The State of Oregon has maintained the Death with Dignity Act since 1997, allowing terminally ill individuals to end their lives. That being said, physician-assisted suicide is never legal if it is involuntary, or of the patient is for some reason unable to consent to life-ending measures.

[Last updated in November of 2021 by the Wex Definitions Team]