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Unpublished Paper
Graceful Exit: Redefining Terminal to Expand the Availability of Physician-Facilitated Suicide
ExpressO (2012)
  • Browne C Lewis, Cleveland State University
For almost ten years, Oregon stood alone as the state that permits terminally ill persons to choose the time and manner of their deaths. Finally, in 2009, Oregon received company when the state of Washington’s physician facilitated suicide statute officially went into effect in March of that year. Supporters of the statutes hailed the enactments as a victory for persons seeking to die with dignity. Persons from groups like Compassion & Choices vowed to seek similar legislation in the remaining states. Representatives from the Washington State Medical Association, hospice groups and hospitals argued that the mandates of the statutes place physicians in an unnatural position. In particular, the Medical Association’s spokesman stated that physicians take an oath to save lives, not to end them. The number of persons in the country who support physician-facilitated suicide has continued to grow. At the end of 2009, the Montana Supreme Court indicated that physician-facilitated suicide is not against the state’s public policy. In this article, instead of joining the debate about the legalization of physician assisted suicide, I analyzed the law in Oregon and Washington. That analysis shows that the legislatures in those states attempted to regulate the process in order to protect the interests of terminally ill patients and physicians. The statutory mandates are a step in the right direction, but there is still work that needs to be done. The statutes should be amended to close certain loop holes and to ensure that the physician-facilitated suicide option is available to all of the patients who need it. Persons suffering from physical conditions that will lead to death within six months should not be the only persons permitted to exit gracefully. As long as the safeguards included in the statutes are followed, there is no good reason to prohibit persons suffering from irreversible and incurable physical diseases that lead to death from being classified as terminal. In addition, persons diagnosed with irreversible and incurable brain disorders, like severe dementia or Alzheimer’s disease should be able to avail themselves of the rights provided by the physician-facilitated suicide statutes. Alzheimer’s patients suffer a slow, painful death. They revert to childhood and forget everyone around them. The mental death they suffer is similar to the physical death experienced by terminally physically ill patients. During the early stages of the disease, most Alzheimer sufferers are still competent enough to request physician-facilitated suicide. Therefore, the statutes should be amended or interpreted to give them that option.
  • assisted suicide,
  • death with dignity,
  • right to die,
  • terminal illness,
  • bioethics
Publication Date
August 8, 2012
Citation Information
Browne C Lewis. "Graceful Exit: Redefining Terminal to Expand the Availability of Physician-Facilitated Suicide" ExpressO (2012)
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