Pardalis & Nohavicka Constitutional/Criminal Law Update: There is no Constitutional Right to Suicide Assistance – In NY, It is a Crime
NY’s highest state court has ruled that there is no constitutional right to "aid-in-dying," (the right of a mentally competent and terminally ill person to obtain a prescription for a lethal dosage of drugs from a physician, to be taken at some point to cause death). Although New York has long recognized a competent adult's right to forgo life-saving medical care, the court rejected the argument that an individual has a fundamental constitutional right to aid-in-dying.
When the complaint was filed, one of the plaintiffs was 62 years old. She suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease, a neurodegenerative condition without a cure. As the disease took hold, she was in constant acute pain. Here is how she described it: trapped in a torture chamber of her own deteriorating body, fully aware of all that was transpiring to her physically and, worse yet, that the agonizing pain would persist for the rest of her days. She sought relief in the form of prescription medications "to achieve a peaceful death."
The court ruled that the assisted suicide penal laws apply to anyone who assists an attempted or completed suicide, even where the defendant is motivated by 'sympathetic' concerns, such as the desire to relieve a terminally ill person from the agony of a painful disease." There are no exceptions. The court made clear that “As written, the assisted suicide statutes apply to a physician who intentionally prescribes a lethal dosage of a drug because such act constitutes promoting a suicide attempt or aiding another person to commit suicide. The court reminded that, "merely declining medical care, even essential treatment, is not considered a suicidal act."
In the United States, physician-assisted suicide has been legalized and is regulated in Oregon; Washington; Vermont; California; Colorado; and the District of Columbia. Each of those jurisdictions expressly permits physician-assisted suicide by statute, and in each one physician-assisted suicide is limited to mentally competent patients, 18 years of age or older, who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness that will lead to death within six months. In Montana, a terminally ill patient's consent to physician-assisted suicide constitutes a defense to a charge of homicide under a state criminal statute, as interpreted by the Montana Supreme Court.
Euthanasia -- the intentional killing of a patient, motivated by the physician's concern for the patient's suffering or indignity -- is NOT legal in any jurisdiction in the United States.