June / July #15 : In the Matter of Life and Death - by Catherine Hanssens

POZ - Health, Life and HIV
Subscribe to:
POZ magazine
E-newsletters
Join POZ: Facebook MySpace Twitter Pinterest
Tumblr Google+ Flickr MySpace
POZ Personals
Sign In / Join
Username:
Password:

Back to home » Archives » POZ Magazine issues




Table of Contents

Do You Believe in Magic?

Cents and Sensibility

Dementia

A Mind of Her Own

Blade Runner

Mortal Obsession

The Heat Is On

Betrayal! Cowardice! Treachery!

S.O.S.

On Pins and Needles

Crazy? Not at All

Missing Person

In the Matter of Life and Death

"What About AIDS?" Again.

Rituals

Up In Smoke

Manifesto Destiny

Fast Times at Hillsboro High

Sense of a Woman

Show Me Some Skin

Who to call to help pay for meds

It's Up To Him, New York: Ronald Johnson

Cool Food



Most Popular Lessons

The HIV Life Cycle

Shingles

Herpes Simplex Virus

Syphilis & Neurosyphilis

Treatments for Opportunistic Infections (OIs)

What is AIDS & HIV?

Hepatitis & HIV


email print

June / July 1996

In the Matter of Life and Death

by Catherine Hanssens

Two courts rule that either is your choice

The movement to legalize physician-assisted suicide has turned a corner. In March, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recognized for the first time the right of a terminally ill person to get help from a doctor in putting an end to suffering by hastening death. A month later, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued a similar ruling, invalidating a New York state law that had prohibited physician-aided suicide. As unexpected as they were historic, the two decisions are a major step forward for a society that has long criminalized this act. Courts are beginning to reflect the view not only that the terminally ill have the right to make decisions about their deaths. They are also saying that to withhold assistance in carrying out these decisions effectively denies patients this right and abandons them to prolonged suffering.

The two courts arrived at the same decision, but took different routes to get there. In the first case, Compassion in Dying v. State of Washington, the federal appeals court held, first, that the 14th amendment's guarantee of liberty protects the right to determine the time and manner of one's own death. The court then concluded that to the extent a Washington state law barred doctors from prescribing medication to end life for terminally ill, competent adults who had requested it, that state law violated this right.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals took a different approach. It explicitly rejected the constitutionally protected liberty interest in committing physician-assisted suicide. Relying on the recognized right of the terminally ill to decide whether to accept or reject life-sustaining medical treatment, the federal court of appeals, in Quill v. Vacco, said that to allow competent, terminally ill people to refuse treatment that would prolong their lives but to prevent them from accepting treatment that would hasten death serves no rational purpose. Thus, by treating these people differently, it violates the equal protection clause.

The political strife over physician-assisted suicide has begun to come into prominent view. Like the reproductive rights struggle, it involves such profound questions as the extent of personal control over one's body and very personal views of when life begins and ends. On one side of the debate are groups including "right to life" organizations and the Catholic church, which characterize these decisions as upholding a license to kill. On the other side are a number of patient advocacy, AIDS activist and civil liberties groups as well as doctors, who advocate the protection of the fundamental privacy right to make such decisions without unnecessary state intrusion.

Caught between the two positions are many in the disabilities rights movement. Disabled people have long experienced stigma that sometimes means their lives are valued less than those without disabilities. With the increasing financial pressures caused by a dysfunctional health care system, some worry that those whose lives are less valued may be pressured into a death they did not choose.

Assisted suicide is not the most compelling issue for people with HIV. Preserving the quality of life and insuring access to adequate health care are far more critical. Still, the right to end a life when the spirit is buried under unbearable, unending pain is an important aspect of personal autonomy and self-empowerment. These values are at the heart of the struggle of most people living with AIDS. It is fitting that among the plaintiffs in these path-breaking cases were people with AIDS, gay men who were determined to decide for themselves when meaningful life had come to an end. In becoming named plaintiffs, they sacrificed their privacy and undertook the possible stigma attached to suicide. While dying, they devoted their energies to a case whose outcome is yielding benefits that they did not live to see.

Catherine Hanssens is director of the AIDS Project of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund (212.995.8585).




[Go to top]

Join POZ Facebook Twitter Google+ MySpace YouTube Tumblr Flickr
Quick Links
Current Issue

HIV Testing
Safer Sex
Find a Date
Newly Diagnosed
HIV 101
Disclosing Your Status
Starting Treatment
Help Paying for Meds
Search for the Cure
POZ Stories
POZ Opinion
POZ Exclusives
Read the Blogs
Visit the Forums
Job Listings
Events Calendar


    Drew949
    South Orange County
    California


    oceanblue65
    louisiana
    Louisiana


    TaintedloveDC
    Washington
    DC

This could be you!
Click here to join POZ Personals!
Ask POZ Pharmacist

Talk to Us
Poll
Survey
Pop Watch

more surveys
Contact Us
We welcome your comments!
[ about Smart + Strong | about POZ | POZ advisory board | partner links | advertising policy | advertise/contact us | site map]
© 2014 Smart + Strong. All Rights Reserved. Terms of use and Your privacy.
Smart + Strong® is a registered trademark of CDM Publishing, LLC.