- The Supreme Court has found that we have a right to hasten death by foregoing or stopping life-saving treatment.
- The Supreme Court has found that terminally-ill patients do not have a right to hasten death.
- The Supreme Court has not enumerated a rationale for denying the right to autonomy to some, namely terminally-ill patients, while granting it others.
This article is by Andrew Murphy, a 2L at Chicago-Kent.
Unless you have been living under a rock for the past 20 years, you have heard of Doctor Jack Kevorkian and the debate sparked by his actions in assisting more than 130 people to commit suicide. However, this was not the beginning of the debate on one’s ability to control when and how they die. This debate has been carried out in our judicial system for decades as evidenced by In re Quinlan and its progeny. Today the debate still endures in the form of a terminally-ill patient’s right to affirmatively hasten death through physician-assisted suicide when the only alternative is languishing in pain and prolonging an undesirable quality of life. The Supreme Court has unequivocally held that the terminally-ill patient does not have this right. Is it intellectually dishonest to draw a distinction between hastening death by withholding life-saving medicine and hastening death by affirmatively acting to do so? Is this an example of governmental paternalism and undue burden on personal autonomy? I would answer both questions in the affirmative.