In ancient days, assisted suicide was frequently seen as a way to preserve one’s honor. For the past twenty-five years, on the other hand, the practice has been viewed as a response to the progress of modern medicine. New and often expensive medical technologies have been developed that prolong life. However, the technologies also prolong the dying processes, leading some people to question whether modern medicine is forcing patients to live in unnecessary pain when there is no chance they will be cured. Passive euthanasia—disconnecting a respirator or removing a feeding tube—has become an accepted solution to this dilemma. Active euthanasia—perhaps an overdose of pills or a deadly injection of morphine—remains controversial. Assisted suicide is most widely defined as a type of active euthanasia in which a doctor provides the means of death—usually by prescribing a lethal dose of drugs—but the patient is responsible for performing the final act. Despite the changes in modern medicine, the attitudes toward assisted suicide in America’s courts and legislatures have not altered considerably. For instance, in the book Understanding Assisted Suicide, John B Mitchell writes, “in June 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that people do not have a constitutional right to assisted suicide” (214). Although a constitutional right was not established, the ruling did not preclude states from passing laws prohibiting or permitting assisted suicide. However, similar to its status 130 years ago, assisted suicide is not widely supported in America’s state legislatures. As of 1997, physician-assisted suicide was legal in only one state—Oregon. Moreover, that law faced challenges from right-to-life opponents and the Justice Department, which was trying to decide whether the Oregon statute violated any federal law. The other states remained strongly opposed to assisted suicide. As of this writing, thirty-five states have statutes that prohibit assisted suicide, nine...
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