The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia

The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia

The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia

The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia


The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia provides the most thorough overview of the ethical and legal issues raised by assisted suicide and euthanasia--as well as the most comprehensive argument against their legalization--ever published.

In clear terms accessible to the general reader, Neil Gorsuch thoroughly assesses the strengths and weaknesses of leading contemporary ethical arguments for assisted suicide and euthanasia. He explores evidence and case histories from the Netherlands and Oregon, where the practices have been legalized. He analyzes libertarian and autonomy-based arguments for legalization as well as the impact of key U.S. Supreme Court decisions on the debate. And he examines the history and evolution of laws and attitudes regarding assisted suicide and euthanasia in American society.

After assessing the strengths and weaknesses of arguments for assisted suicide and euthanasia, Gorsuch builds a nuanced, novel, and powerful moral and legal argument against legalization, one based on a principle that, surprisingly, has largely been overlooked in the debate--the idea that human life is intrinsically valuable and that intentional killing is always wrong. At the same time, the argument Gorsuch develops leaves wide latitude for individual patient autonomy and the refusal of unwanted medical treatment and life-sustaining care, permitting intervention only in cases where an intention to kill is present.

Those on both sides of the assisted suicide question will find Gorsuch's analysis to be a thoughtful and stimulating contribution to the debate about one of the most controversial public policy issues of our day.


Whether to permit assistance in suicide and euthanasia is among the most contentious legal and public policy questions in America today. The issue erupted into American public consciousness on June 4, 1990, with the news that Dr. Jack Kevorkian—a slightly built, greying, retired Michigan pathologist—had helped Janet Adkins, a fifty-four-year-old Alzheimer's patient, kill herself. Dr. Kevorkian later revealed that he had not taken the medical history of Ms. Atkins, conducted a physical or mental examination, or consulted Ms. Adkins's primary care physician. Dr. Kevorkian had simply agreed to meet Ms. Adkins in his Volkswagen van, which he had outfitted with a “suicide machine” consisting of three chemical solutions fed into an intravenous line needle. Dr. Kevorkian tried five times to insert the needle before eventually succeeding. Ms. Adkins then pressed a lever releasing death-inducing drugs into her body. Dr. Murray Raskind, one of the physicians who cared for Ms. Adkins in the early stages of her disease, later testified that she was physically fit but probably not mentally competent at the time of her death.

Since Janet Adkins's death first made national headlines, Dr. Kevorkian claims to have assisted more than 130 suicides. Derek Humphry, founder of The Hemlock Society, a group devoted to promoting the legalization of euthanasia, has praised Dr. Kevorkian for “breaking the medical taboo on euthanasia.” The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) aggressively took up his legal defense.

While perhaps the most notorious contemporary American proponent of assisted suicide and euthanasia, Dr. Kevorkian hardly stands alone. In 1984 the Netherlands became the first country in the world to endorse certain forms of assisted suicide and euthanasia. The Dutch Supreme Court declared that, although euthanasia was punishable as murder under the nation's penal code, physicians could claim an “emergency defence” under certain circumstances. After several failed attempts, in November 2000 the lower house of the Dutch Parliament voted 104–40 in favor of a physician-assisted suicide exception to the nation's homicide laws, codifying—and liberalizing in some key respects—the prior judicial “emergency defence”; the Dutch Senate gave its assent in April 2001. The Northern Territory of Australia passed a law permitting as-

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