Kevorkian Trial Renews Debate over Euthanasia

By Ann Scott Tyson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, February 12, 1996 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Kevorkian Trial Renews Debate over Euthanasia

Ann Scott Tyson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor

AS Michigan state attorneys prepare again today to prosecute accused suicide accomplice Jack Kevorkian, a quiet but far-reaching debate is unfolding in American homes and hospitals over the ethics of physician-assisted suicide.

Both opponents and advocates in the larger debate are highly critical of Dr. Kevorkian and his methods in helping 27 people kill themselves since 1990. Without the publicity surrounding Kevorkian, however, they say today's discussion might not be as widespread.

"{Kevorkian} is a terrible bedfellow, even if you are for it," says Prof. Ezekiel Emanuel, a medical ethicist at Harvard University. "On the other hand, he has raised the issue and I think a national debate is appropriate." Unless a last-minute appeal delays the case, Kevorkian will go on trial today for his role in two 1993 deaths.

The debate, which challenges the 2,500-year-old Hippocratic ethic of Western medicine, centers around whether doctors should be allowed to prescribe drugs to end the lives of requesting adult patients who are diagnosed as mentally competent and terminally ill.

Overall, support for legalizing the practice seems to be increasing among both the general public and doctors in the US, according to two studies reported in the latest issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

In Michigan, 66 percent of adults and 56 percent of doctors surveyed approve of legalizing physician-assisted suicide; in Oregon, 60 percent of doctors said it should be legalized in some cases, the studies show.

Moreover, many doctors are already quietly breaking laws to accommodate patients who seek to die, according to the studies and experts in medical ethics. In the Oregon study, for example, 7 percent of doctors responded that they had complied with patients' requests for prescriptions for drugs with which to end their lives.

Ballot initiatives

Underscoring the trend, a dozen states including Washington and California have introduced legislation or ballot initiatives in recent years to legalize physician-assisted suicide. So far only Oregon has passed a law, but the 1994 Oregon Death with Dignity Act, which won 51 percent of voter support, has not been implemented because of court challenges.

Key federal court rulings are expected later this year on the Oregon law, as well as on efforts to decriminalize physician-assisted suicide in Washington and New York States.

Medical ethicists offer different explanations for the shift in public attitudes. Some cite the aging population. Others say advancing medical technology has been successful in prolonging peoples' lives, but can add to human suffering in prolonged cases of illness. AIDs has fueled the discussion, too.

More than anything, supporters of physician-assisted suicide stress the need to relieve suffering and to allow patients to make individual choices free from intrusive doctors or a paternalistic state - what they call "death with dignity." Practically, they argue, it is better to allow assisted suicide under controlled and restricted conditions than to tolerate today's unmonitored suicides.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Kevorkian Trial Renews Debate over Euthanasia


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?