Dr. Paul Gaffney
30 November 2011
Law Research Paper
The Value of a Human Life
“Every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has a right to, but himself.” “Government has no other end, but the preservation of property.” -John Locke
We look at the words of one of the framers of our constitution, and we apply it to the concept of assisted suicide. This subject was one of the hottest issues of the late 20th century, but why was this issue so crucial? Why did it seem to have law writers and judges fumbling to grab for their red tape? There seems to be a more deep seated opinion on why the land that gives us the right to freedom of speech, expression, natural, and civil rights, can restrict the one right we should inherently have. The question I pose for you today isn’t to look at the morality of suicide, but rather look, and ask yourself, why don’t we have the right to die? This paper will be broken down into two sections, one will be the law, precedent, acts, etc. and the other will be the philosophy governing our actions as a collective body and why the ideals that the sound percentage of this united states are unrepresented.
There are many cases of assisted suicide, and legislation overseeing it, but the few examples I will give will show the stance that America has taken on the subject of assisted suicide. Jack Kevorkian was the front runner for euthanasia, advocate for a pro-choice death, and leader of one of the most controversial hot button issues of the late 1980s to 1990s. He fought for the legalization of assisted suicide in terminal patients and was known for saying “dying is not a crime”. He’s an important figure in this movement because he couldn’t be convicted until he was aired on 60 minutes as personally injecting the patient with the drug, instead of having them commit the suicide themselves. The importance of this distinction is that when Jack himself did not inject the patient, he was not found accountable, showing the importance of the word “assisted” in assisted suicide.
Secondly, the Terry Schiavo case was another landmark case pertaining to the death of a terminal patient. Theresa Marie Schindler (Terri) had entered a vegetative state and was comatose and on life support. Her husband had the power to order her feeding tubes removed, ultimately sentencing her to death, however, many people intervened and wouldn’t let her pass away, rather they kept her on feeding tubes for 15 years until she finally was taken off life support and passed 13 days after. During her life, the very controversial “Terri’s Law” was written up and gave the power to Florida’s Governor to put Terri back on life support. An interesting point in this legislation is that President George W. Bush flew to Washington just to sign this bill into action. “It should be noticed that this is the same George W. Bush who, as Governor of Texas, signed into state law the power of hospitals to remove a patient (in identical situations as Terri's) from life support -- a critical factor being the family's ability to pay the hospital bills -- even if such removal was against the family's objections.” This brings a completely different angle into the element of a patient’s death. From the parameters of this case it proves that the government will not intervene into the death of one of its constituents, unless of course that person is not financially able to keep living. I’ll explain this further, in the second section.
Another fact to outline our government’s stand on suicide is the Washington v. Glucksberg case. In this case the Supreme Court agreed unanimously that the Due Process Clause of the Constitution did not protect the right to assistance in committing suicide. There was a previous case, Moore v. East Cleveland, which decided that liberty interests cannot be protected if they aren’t deeply rooted in the nation’s history. Rehnquist wrote that it...
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