The Doctor Will See You for the Last Time Now: Physician-Assisted Suicide in Massachusetts

PdfPDF by Stephen J. OrlandoFebruary-24-2013

Category: Current, Current Notes, Notes, Number 1, Print Edition, Volume 46


Under early common law, many states punished assisted suicide as murder.  In 1994, however, the Supreme Court of Michigan drew a legal distinction between the concepts of murder and assisted suicide.  Despite this distinction, forty-seven states still prohibit physicians from assisting in a patient’s death. The justifications for this restriction include avoiding the possibility of abuse, preventing the risk of a slippery slope to involuntary euthanasia, or preserving the integrity of the medical profession.  The three states that allow the practice view physician-assisted suicide (P.A.S.) as a means of promoting patient autonomy and providing a merciful end-of-life option for terminally ill patients.

Presently, Massachusetts is in line with the majority of states in prohibiting P.A.S.  In September 2011, Attorney General Martha Coakley certified an initiative petition to legalize physician-assisted suicide.  The bill, known as the Massachusetts Death with Dignity Act (DWDA), would have allowed terminally ill patients to request and receive lethal dosages of medication to end their own lives. Voters narrowly rejected the bill during the 2012 general election.

This Note will focus on the effects that a bill like the proposed DWDA might have on patient care in Massachusetts.  Specifically, this Note focuses on the effect of legalized physician-assisted suicide on patient autonomy, elder care, and the dignity of the medical profession.  This Note also discusses the potential future of end-of-life care, including active euthanasia and the availability of physician-assisted suicide to minors. . .

Read the full Note here.

Author: Stephen J. Orlando


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