Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS)
Activity in states other
California, Oregon & Washington
Activity in the states of California, Oregon
and Washington is
Topics covered in this essay:
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."
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
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
"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.
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:
SB 709 has yet to pass out of the Judiciary and
Health and Human Services committees.
||SB 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:
Senator 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
Senator 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."
"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
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.
Starting in 1991, a physician assisted suicide bill has been repeatedly
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
The International Anti-Euthanasia Task Force listed a number of
concerns about the proposed "Death with Dignity" act:
||The 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.
||The individual might obtain the drugs and store them unsafely for
||The individual could obtain the drugs, decide to not commit suicide.
Later, a family member could use the drugs to murder the person.
||They fear that a HMO or insurance company will be motivated by a
desire for profits and will suggest that a patient commit suicide.
||Patients 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.
||Statistics on physician assisted suicide may be inaccurate.
Many 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
Voters narrowly defeated the measure on 2000-NOV-7 by a margin of 51 to
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
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
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.
The text of the Florida Supreme court ruling is at:
(may be a dead link)
"Assisted suicide to top Maine November ballot," CNSNews.
Available at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/00/20000530c.htm
"Analysis of Maine assisted suicide proposal," at: http://www.iaetf.org/mainean.htm
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:
The text of the Hawaii Death with Dignity Act (HB2487) is at:
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:
Copyright ? 1997 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on
Last updated 2007-JUN-02
Author: Bruce A Robinson