DB 7 Doctor Assisted Suicide

Basing an answer to the questions using only the textbook or Dr. Kevorkian's ("Dr. Death") case, it appears as homicide and criminal liability. However, when analyzing case law, statutes, methods, and medications and further reviewing Kevorkian's earlier cases, the facts show it is not homicide, and there is no criminal liability. The physician prescribes medicine intended for pain relief and discomfort to a terminally ill patient, adequately informed of the risks and side effects of the medicine. They are not encouraging or promoting the patient's suicide by doing so. While it is illegal to prescribe "lethal" medication, a physician may prescribe medicines to relieve a person's pain or discomfort, even if they hasten or increase the risk of death. It is only illegal to administer or prescribe a medicine intended to cause death (I.C. 35-42-1-2.5). For instance, medications such as morphine sulfate and diazepam are used, none of which are illegal to prescribe, do not constitute homicide, and should not be considered so ( End of Life Washington , 2021). While a physician must report and intervene, there is no need in this instance, as it is not a mentally ill patient wanting to self-harm or putting someone at high risk for harm ( Physician- Patient Relationship , 2022). Instead, the patient is terminally ill, suffering constant pain from a lingering death. Thus, the physician's "act" is motivated only by compassion, intending only to relieve pain or discomfort. They are not prescribing medication with the malicious intent to kill another person ( People v. Kevorkian , 447 Mich. 436 [1994]). Therefore, criminal omission of legal duty does not apply to physician-assisted suicide (p. 113). For a person to be charged or convicted of homicide, the following must be proven: (1) a voluntary act, (2) killing another person, (3) done deliberately, knowing, or extremely reckless. Additionally, the act must have also been the cause of the victim's death. In other words, the defendants' lethal act triggered by the intent to kill another person causes the death (pp. 125, 332). However, several elements for both criminal liability and homicide are missing, such as mental element, factual ("but for" cause) or proximate causation, or participation in the final overt act (p. 97). The facts of euthanasia show there is no criminal conduct, as suicide and terminal illness are intervening (superseding) causes that relieve the physician of liability. The affirmative defenses of consent or necessity would justify this, showing they had the patient's consent to prescribe the medication. Doing so was immediately necessary to avoid an alternative method, like a self-inflicted gunshot wound (p. 163). Simply prescribing a legal medicine does not trigger events that led (proximate) to or caused the death (factual). To establish both, it must be said that "but for" the defendants' actions, the result would not have occurred. However, the patient was terminally ill, and suffering triggered the events that led to the suicide. Suicide is the cause of death, not the physician prescribing the medications. As such, factual and proximate causation cannot be established because "but for" the physicians' actions, the patient would have still died. Thus, the patients' suicide or illness breaks the chain of causation (pp. 146-148). Therefore, punishing and holding the physician liable is unfair and unjust, as "we can only punish those we can blame" (p.125). The court held that "physician-assisted suicide does not fall within the crime of homicide. Only where there is probable cause that death was a direct and natural result of the physician's actions can they be properly bound over on a charge of murder" ( People v. Kevorkian , 447 Mich. 436 [1994]).
Further, physician-assisted suicide laws were not passed to deter crime (the purpose of laws) but to preserve human life ( Washington v. Glucksberg , 521 U.S. 702 [1997]). Prolonging the lingering death of someone suffering from a terminal illness is heinous and cruel. Such is an aggravating factor for first-degree murder, and it is also defined and prohibited as torture under 18 U.S.C. §§ 2340-2340A. Physician-assisted suicide is humanely allowing the suffering terminally ill patients to relieve themselves of the suffering from pain and lingering death, which is the outcome of a terminal illness.
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