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Euthanasia Essay Civil Remedies And Assisted Suicide

1932 words - 8 pages

Civil Remedies and Assisted Suicide

      This essay goes into the need for civil remedies to guard against assisted suicide actions by family, guardians, etc. Some states have already enacted such legislation, and others are in the process. This is a simple, safe legal procedure for protecting against the threat ot assisted suicide/euthanasia.


On May 2, 1994, a Michigan jury acquitted Jack Kevorkian of charges related to his publicly proclaimed assistance in the suicide of Thomas Hyde. The verdict points up the way in which the pathos of individual cases often leads criminal case juries to react emotionally, failing to give considerate attention to the general effects on ...view middle of the document...

"[2] Other studies confirm this conclusion, which in fact is not limited to circumstances of "terminal illness" or "compassion."[3]


While there have been a few successful criminal prosecutions of non-doctors, they have been extremely rare. A 1986 article in the Columbia Law Review concluded:

[A]ll indications are that assistance statutes are rarely, if ever, used. ... [D]espite the thousands of suicides each year, only about fifty news reports regarding some form of prosecution in the past decade for some type of assistance to suicide have been located. ... No post-1930 decision appears to exist in any state reporter of an appeal from a prosecution for the specific offense of assisting or causing a suicide. Surely, many more cases of suicide assistance are occurring than are prosecuted. . . Police and prosecutors appear to be reluctant to bring charges for suicide assistance. A British study found only one-sixth of all reported cases of suicide assistance were prosecuted. ... It seems plain that police and prosecutors are exercising their discretion to turn a blind eye to acts of assistance to suicide, which means that legislative enactments are not being enforced.[4]


What happens when criminal prosecutions are actually brought? Leonard Glantz accumulated reports on 20 prosecutions from 1939 through 1983. Only in three of them is there a record of jail sentences for the accused, and in each of those three cases there were unusual factors that cast doubt on how "merciful" were the defendants' motives. A few of the others resulted in suspended sentences, but the great majority resulted either in grand jury refusals to indict or acquittals. Glantz concluded, "[A]s a practical matter, the laws of homicide may not offer much protection to very sick, elderly patients." [5]


Why are criminal penalties so easily evaded? Most of those involved in assisting suicide seem more sympathetic characters to a jury than the typical street criminal. They are often doctors or family members and friends of the suicide victim. Even when prosecutors or juries are convinced that what these people have done or are doing is objectively wrong, it is hard for them to regard such people--who often subjectively have convinced themselves they are doing the right thing--as hardened criminals worthy of punishment. Indeed, this is an area in which almost all--including those of us pushing most strongly for laws to protect potential suicide victims from "assistance"--are more interested in preventing the act than in seeking retribution against the actor.


Thus, one law review article quotes a local prosecutor as saying "the District Attorney's office [does] not seek out such cases and would prosecute only those in which one of the people involved complained" and another as saying "that the law-enforcement authorities should stay out of them as much as possible." [6] It must be remembered that in our system there is absolute...

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