Rapid and dramatic developments in medicine and technology have given us the power to save more lives than was ever possible in the past. Medicine has put at our disposal the means to cure or to reduce the suffering of people afflicted with diseases that were once fatal or painful. At the same time, however, medical technology has given us the power to sustain the lives (or, some would say, prolong the deaths) of patients whose physical and mental capabilities cannot be restored, whose degenerating conditions cannot be reversed, and whose pain cannot be eliminated. As medicine struggles to pull more and more people away from the edge of death, the plea that tortured, deteriorated lives be mercifully ended grows louder and more frequent. Californians are now being asked to support an initiative, entitled the Humane and Dignified Death Act, that would allow a physician to end the life of a terminally ill patient upon the request of the patient, pursuant to properly executed legal documents. Under present law, suicide is not a crime, but assisting in suicide is. Whether or not we as a society should pass laws sanctioning "assisted suicide" has generated intense moral controversy.
Supporters of legislation