Journal of Law and Family Studies, Vol 11, No 2 (2009)

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TO DIE OR NOT TO DIE: THE HISTORY AND FUTURE OF ASSISTED SUICIDE LAWS IN THE U.S.

Shelly A. Cassity

Abstract


The accompanying monologue, A Small Decision, briefly recounts the passing of the author's mother-in-law who decided to end her life through starvation. Perhaps surprisingly, there is currently no law in the United States that prevents a person from making the decision to stop eating, even if this decision results in the death of the individual. However, this issue has increasingly become a subject of concern in response to the controversy over assisted suicide. If a person seeking to end her life, for one reason or another, resides in a state where assisted suicide is completely banned, she may decide to employ legal options such as refusing food or drink to hasten death. Refraining from eating or drinking, as well as other life-ending decisions, are common practices in the United States.

Thus, a difficult legal and moral issue has arisen as to whether society is prepared to decriminalize assisted suicide. There are legitimate societal interests in discouraging the assistance of suicide. However, denying a person the option to receive safe and proper aid in dying serves, in effect, to encourage starvation or other distasteful ways to die. This note explores some of the legal history surrounding assisted suicide and comments on the future of assisted suicide laws in the United States. Section II introduces and explains the various classifications of life-ending decisions. Section III reviews the historical background of assisted suicide laws in the United States. Section IV discusses the current state of such laws. Finally, section V deals with the possible future of assisted suicide laws in the United States.




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