Alaska Supreme Court Decision: No Right to Assisted Suicide
The Alaska Supreme Court unanimously ruled that there is no right
to doctor-assisted suicide. The September 21st decision is the most
recent in a series of setbacks for right-to-die activists.
Alaska's high court rejected claims brought by the Compassion in
Dying Federation and others that privacy provisions of Alaska law
trump protections for the vulnerable and disabled. Justice Alex Bryner,
who wrote the decision for the Court, said "the terminally ill are
a class of persons who need protection from family, social, and economic
pressures, and who are often particularly vulnerable to such pressures
because of chronic pain, depression, and the effects of medication." The
decision cited concerns of medical groups that allowing doctor-assisted
suicide would prove too dangerous to the vulnerable. Physicians for
Compassionate Care (PCC) was one of two such groups filing an amicus
brief in the Alaska case.
In its brief to the Court, PCC said, "Experience with doctor-assisted
suicide in the state of Oregon, as in the Netherlands, reveals that
assisted suicide allowed in the medical setting is not a private
act. Doctor-assisted suicide takes place in a complex medical, social,
and economic system, making the individual
patient vulnerable to adverse influence. It creates conditions
allowing family members and others to pressure the patient to commit
assisted suicide, as has already happened in Oregon."
James Bopp of the National Legal Center for the Medically Dependent
and Disabled said, "This decision drives a stake close to the heart
of the movement to legalize euthanasia through the courts." He noted
that assisted-suicide activists had a strategy of bringing cases
in both federal and state courts. "They've now lost every case they've
brought in both arenas. It looks like they've gone down two dead-end
Since Oregon became the only state, by the narrowest of margins,
to legalize assisted suicide, numerous state and federal courts,
including the U.S. Supreme Court, have found that there is no general
right to assisted suicide. And, in the past several years, Iowa,
Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Rhode Island, South Carolina,
South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, Georgia, Michigan, Illinois, and
Oklahoma -- all have strengthened laws against the threat of assisted
suicide. Voter initiatives promoting assisted suicide have been defeated
in Maine and Michigan, as well as California and Washington.
Even Oregon's assisted-suicide practice may soon be halted. U.S.
Attorney General Ashcroft is expected to rule that existing federal
law forbids the use of federally regulated drugs for assisted suicide.
According to Doctor Gregory Hamilton, such a ruling would be welcome. "Oregon
doctors, like doctors in other states, need to begin protecting
the rights, indeed, the very lives of the
seriously ill and vulnerable," he said. "Oregon doctors need to turn
their attention to treating depression, anxiety and pain in the seriously
ill and away from assisted suicide."
N. Gregory Hamilton, M.D.
Physicians for Compassionate Care
September 25, 2001